Investigating the Syntax-Morphology Interface: Evidence from Gender Syncretisms
Syncretism occurs when the same morphophonological exponent appears in two different morphosyntactic contexts. Understanding the morphosyntactic context is thus critical for understanding if syncretism has occurred. If two superficially-different syntactic contexts are underlyingly identical, or if a syntactic operation has altered two contexts to become identical, then what seems like syncretism may turn out to be ‘garden-variety’ one-to-one exponence, and not true/morphological syncretism at all.
In this talk, I explore several different instances of (purported) gender syncretism, building on previous work on Amharic (Kramer 2019), Sidaama (Kramer and Teferra 2020), and Hijazi and Najdi Arabic (Kramer and Winchester 2018). For each instance, I examine the syntactic context closely, attempting to determine whether the purported syncretism is truly morphological or whether it has a syntactic explanation. I argue that the gender syncretisms in Amharic and Sidaama are in fact morphological, and provide evidence against syntactic explanations. However, I argue that the purported syncretism in Hijazi and Najdi is due to an unusual syntactic-semantic context, pointing up that research on syncretism cannot be limited to the (narrowly) morphological sphere. I conclude by discussing the implications of these results for morphological theory (arguing that they likely support restrictive approaches to syncretism) and for the syntax-morphology interface in general.