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The Syntax-Morphology Interface in Ancient Greek: The Syntactical Properties of Morphemes

Nadav Asraf

Harvard University

 Syntax and morphology are generally taken to be two distinct, wholly independent components of human language, so that, on the one hand, morphemes merely constitute word parts and, unlike the words which they build, are not independent entities and do not possess syntactical properties, and, on the other hand, syntactical operations cannot access the internal structure of words and operate on their individual morphemes. Such views of language have been enshrined in the Lexical Integrity Principle, which is taken to be a part of Universal Grammar (e.g., Anderson 1992, Lapointe 1980). The proposed talk will explore the syntax-morphology interface in Ancient Greek by way of the question: Do morphemes in Ancient Greek possess syntactical properties and take part in syntactical operations?

To answer this question, two morphological formations will be explored, amply exemplified, and shown to possess several syntactical properties: first, denominal adjectives (including the so-called ‘possessive adjectives’), such as Ἀγαμεμνόνεος, παππῷος, and Πανικός, and second, nominal and verbal compounds, such as ἱπποφόρβιον, ἑκατόμπυλος, and πιθηκοφαγέω.

In the case of denominal adjectives, the base noun from which they are derived can participate in a variety of syntactical operations: it can be referred to by anaphoric pronouns; it can be the antecedent of relative pronouns; it can stand in apposition with nouns and it can even be in agreement with adjectives; it cannot, however, govern nominal phrases. This leads to the conclusion that, in effect, the syntactical component of grammar can ‘look into’ the internal morphological structure of denominal adjectives, identify and isolate the base noun – albeit a morphological element, not a syntactical one – and utilize it as part of different syntactical operations, as if it were a fully independent word.

In the case of compounds, the first and second member of the compound, rather than the whole compound by itself, can be referred to by anaphoric pronouns, and they can even be the antecedent of relative pronouns; they, however, can neither be in agreement with adjectives nor govern nominal phrases (as has been recently claimed by Rousseau 2009 & 2016:156–157 with n. 785, for ‘hypostatic’ compound adjectives, such as ὑπόστεγος and ὕπαυλος, in the language of Athenian tragedy). As such, compound morphemes, which do not constitute fully independent words, are also amenable to syntactical operations.

It will be shown that denominal adjectives and compounds, though they share some common ground in their syntactical treatment, do not possess the same syntactical properties. The talk will conclude with offering explanations to these different grammatical behaviors by showing that (1) this grammatical behavior is not haphazard but it obeys Corbett’s (1979) Agreement Hierarchy; (2) denominal adjectives possess more syntactical properties than compounds due to their inflected (rather than derived) nature on the inflection-derivation continuum (Haspelmath 1996; Haspelmath & Sims 2010:98–106); (3) outbound anaphoric reference is not an abnormal feature of language and it depends mostly on pragmatics rather than syntax. 

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Greek and Latin Linguistics

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