Varya Magomedova & Mark Aronoff

Stony Brook University
Talk Title: 
Russian diminutive suffixes / Competition and variation
Event Type: 
Brown Bag Talk
Spring 2016
Wednesday, February 3, 2016, 12:00 pm
SBS S-207 (Linguistics Seminar Room)

This semester's first Brown Bag presents two talks, which will be given by Varya Magomedova and Prof. Mark Aronoff. You can find both their abstracts below.


Varya Magomedova - Russian diminutive suffixes
This paper has two main goals, the first one is to show on the example of Russian diminutive suffixes that competition of non-allomorphs can be sensibly analyzed. The second is to show that phonological constraints responsible for the distribution of the suffixes have different weights in productive grammar than in prescriptive grammar.

Although the [-ok, -ək, -ik, -t͡ɕik] suffixes were considered allomorphs in previous studies, they were never tested for it. The assumption about their allomorphy was based on their distribution in standard Russian (dictionaries and literature), which is close to complementary and can be predicted with phonological factors. However, these suffixes appeared to have differences in meaning. In this work I analyze the situation, when the distribution of suffixes can be partially predicted by their semantic context and partially by phonological factors.


Mark Aronoff - Competition and variation
Twentieth-century linguistics was dominated by the search for invariance. Its greatest achievements, the phoneme and the transformation (at least in its earliest incarnations) were tools designed to reduce distributional variants to a more basic entity. Allophones were distributional variants of phonemes, while the earliest transformations served to derive ‘equivalent’ expressions from their more basic forms, for example, the Passive and the Active forms of a verb from a more abstract underlying representation. A much older strand, often traced to the Hindu grammarians, treats distribution as competition between forms, in Max Mueller’s (1870) words “the struggle for life among words and grammatical forms which is constantly going on in each language.” Mueller saw this struggle as the linguistic analogue of natural selection. I will apply this idea of a struggle between linguistic elements to a number of well-known types of cases that have often been thought of in terms of variation: synonymous words, competing affixes, and constraint ordering in both phonology and morphology. In many of these types, competition (framed in terms of Gause’s (1934) ecological principle of competitive exclusion), provides a more enlightening account than more standard treatments. It also allows us to see language not solely as an idiosyncratic human device but as a system governed at least in part by much more general properties of systems.

References Gause, G. F. 1934. The struggle for existence. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins.
Mueller, Max. 1870. Darwinism tested by the Science of Language. Nature 1(10). 256–259.