Kastner (2016) – Form and Meaning in the Hebrew Verb

Form and Meaning in the Hebrew Verb
Itamar Kastner
June 2016
Direct link: http://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/003028

This dissertation is about the basic building blocks that make up words, and how these building blocks interact with the rest of the grammar. The grammar is generally viewed as an inventory of contentful units and the rules governing their combination. One question for linguistic theory is what these units might be like. Are they different for different languages? A second question is how these pieces are put together, and again we ask whether these combinatory processes are the same in different languages. A third question is to ask what we can build. This study concentrates on building verbs, specifically how the grammar builds their structure in a way that then constrains semantic interpretation and phonological pronunciation.

The empirical domain is the verbal system of Modern Hebrew, where this work attempts to unify our treatment of concatenative and non-concatenative morphology. The hypothesis put forward is that hierarchical syntactic structure, once generated, must be interpreted according to specific locality constraints when transferred to the interfaces with semantics and phonology. At each interface additional calculations take place. These calculations are interface-particular: semantics and phonology are not identical objects of study. Yet the two have in common a locality constraint on calculations that derives directly from the syntactic structure. In addition, individual lexical items (“roots”) place their own requirements on the meaning and/or the pronunciation. The theory developed here limits this influence of roots to the two interfaces, making the claim that individual roots have no syntactic features. Nevertheless, roots are active at the interfaces in ways that are predictable once the right generalizations are sought out. The phonological form of roots is relevant at the phonology and their lexical semantics is relevant at the semantics: roots have no syntactic features, only interface requirements.

Hebrew, being a contemporary Central Semitic language, shows the kind of non-concatenative, “root-and-pattern” morphology that is organized around consonantal “roots” and prosodic “templates”, the latter consisting of a prosodic shape, certain vowels and an affix. The account put forward argues that Hebrew roots are abstract lexical elements which combine with discrete syntactic functional heads. The combination, once fed through the phonology of the language, results in morphophonological templates which are not primitives of the system in and of themselves. The architecture defended supports the view of constrained interpretation at the interfaces which lies at the core of this proposal, using non-hierarchical surface forms in order to mount an argument for hierarchical structure.

Chapter one of the dissertation introduces the issues at hand and the basics of the Hebrew verbal system. It also reviews a number of earlier approaches which help set the stage for the analysis that follows.
Chapter two develops the syntactic-semantic part of the proposal, defining the syntactic elements needed to derive verbal morphology both for Hebrew and crosslinguistically. It is shown that the different combinations of these elements produce the verbal system of Hebrew in a way that is constrained, in the semantics, by the lexical idiosyncrasies of individual roots.
Chapter three takes the proposed structures and manipulates them in the phonological component of the grammar. The view of linearization pursued here is shown to make correct predictions. The effect of different classes of roots is highlighted, and the point is made that verbal templates are not holistic morphemes but the spell-out of distinct functional heads.
Chapter four takes a quantitative approach, surveying previous psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic work on Semitic languages and presenting novel findings from a recent magnetoencephalography experiment. These findings support the claims made in the previous chapters regarding the organization of the system.
Chapter five considers how the child might acquire this system. Recent developmental findings are surveyed and a novel computational model is discussed. This chapter outlines a model of Semitic acquisition in which the consonantal character of roots is used as a learning cue, leading to acquisition of basic verbal templates and eventually the system as a whole.
Chapter six concludes, recapitulating the main contributions of this work: derivations in a generative grammar combine rigid grammatical principles with unstructured lexical material. This dissertation defends an explicit view of how such combination takes place.

Format: pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/003028
(please use that when you cite this article, unless you want to cite the full url: http://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/003028)
Published in: Doctoral dissertation, NYU
keywords: phdthesis, allomorphy, allosemy, hebrew, locality, semitic, syntax, phonology, semantics, morphology
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Posted in Research (e.g. papers, books)