Sunday, October 28, 2007

morphological reanalysis

Morphological reanalysis is the treatment of some set phrase as a single morpheme for purposes of stress assignment, pluralization, etc. For instance, "passer by" is semantically transparent, and theoretically composed of two morphemes. A passer by is one who passes by. Thus the plural would be "passers by," because you have two people passing by. However, morphological reanalysis would treat "passer by" as a single morpheme (which is why you might see it as "passer-by" or "passerby"), and this could lead to the plural "passer-bys" or some such. I would consider that "incorrect" by my prescriptive rules of grammar, but linguistically it's a perfectly natural phenomenon.

I do a lot of morphological reanalysis concerning A(djective) N(oun) or N N phrases. For instance, I pronounce "honey mustard" with the accent on the first word, because I treat the entire thing as one item, as opposed to "honey MUSTARD," which is how it would be said if I perceived myself to literally be talking about mustard of the honey variety. The same goes for "Six Flags," the amusement park. For me this is "SIX Flags," whereas counting the number of banners on some medieval castle would probably yield "SIX FLAGS" or "six FLAGS" with stress most likely on both words, but if I had to pick one it would probably be the second.

Some people are extremely reticent to reanalyze something morphologically (or morphologically reanalyze something if we want to reanalyze that phrase morphologically), whereas some do it on every set phrase. I tend to be in the former category; there are only a few set AN or NN phrases that I pronounce as if I'm merely describing the head noun, rather than treating the entire phrase as a single contituent for stress purposes. This often leads to clashes with other people who do so on a much more limited scale. The difference in pronunciation obviously sounds odd to both parties, and both think they are in the right. So, what phrases do you morphologically reanalyze, and which do you not?


Anonymous said...

I would like to say ... "Bounty the quicker picker-upper!"

Kathy said...
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