Linguistic Perspectives on Morphological Processing
  • ISSN 1871-1340
  • E-ISSN: 1871-1375
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Current theoretical approaches to inflectional morphology make extensive use of the two concepts of abstract feature decomposition and underspecification. Psycholinguistic models of inflection, in contrast, generally lack such more differentiated morphological analyses. This paper reports a series of behavioral experiments that investigate the processing of grammatical gender of nouns in German. The results of these experiments support the idea that elements in the mental lexicon may be underspecified with regard to their grammatical features. However, contrary to all established morphological and psycholinguistic approaches, we provide evidence that even the lexical representation of bare noun stems is characterized by underspecified gender information. The observation that the domain of underspecification of grammatical features extends from inflectional markers to noun stems, supports the idea that underspecification is a more general characteristic of the mental lexicon. We conclude that this finding is mainly driven by economical reasons: a feature (or feature value) that is never used for grammatical operations (e.g., inflectional marking or evaluation of agreement) is not needed in the language system at all.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): German; grammatical gender; underspecification
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