Morphological Typology and Linguistic Cognition

Workshop at the 2017 Linguistic Institute

Lexington, Kentucky, USA

July 22-23, 2017

Organizing Committee

Jeff Parker (Brigham Young University)
Andrea Sims (Ohio State University)
Adam Ussishkin (University of Arizona)
Samantha Wray (New York University Abu Dhabi)
Ekaterina Kibler (Ohio State University)


This workshop is funded by the National Science Foundation (BCS-1623932; PI Andrea Sims, Co-PI Adam Ussishkin).

Additional financial support is provided by the following units at Ohio State University:

We also thank the 2017 Linguistic Institute, and organizers Rusty Barrett and Andrew Hippisley, for in-kind and logistical support.


This workshop will explore the role of linguistic cognition in shaping morphological patterns within and across languages. The central question of the workshop is whether the cognitive processing of language creates a persistent influence on the typological distributions of morphological structures in the world’s languages. This workshop will explore the hypothesis that morphological structures interact dynamically with lexical processing and storage, with the parameters of morphological typology being partly dependent on the cognitive pathways for processing, storage, and generalization of word structure, and vice versa. We are interested in the nature of this interaction, and seek to determine how far it will take us towards explaining system-level principles of morphological organization and their cross-linguistic distribution. By bringing together different types of linguists – experimentalists, typologists, computational modelers, formalists – we hope to shape a research agenda and push forward progress in this area.


We find the following issues to be of particular importance for investigation. They form the overarching questions for the workshop:

  1. What are the cognitive pathways that lead to cross-linguistic morphological tendencies, and how do they create persistent biases over time towards certain language structures and not others?
    • What are the conditions under which cognitive organization and processing lead to morphological generalization (vs. morpholexicalization)? Are certain configurations more stable for morphological generalization than others, and if so, (how) does this lead over time to observable typological patterns?
    • How stable are typologically unusual combinations of properties, and what factors promote their development/maintenance/loss?
    • To what extent do such biases influence morphological decomposition and what factors might support or inhibit such biases?
  2. How do system-level principles of morphological organization (e.g., the tendency of highly agglutinative languages, but not fusional ones, to have little or no inflection class structure) emerge from interactions between the cognitive processing of language, the representational structure of the lexicon, patterns of language use, social factors, universal principles of grammar, and other factors? Are cognitive processing and system-level principles of morphological organization co-adaptive?
  3. Are there cross-linguistic differences in the existence of uniquely morphological principles of organization and/or the modularity of language architecture? How does psycholinguistic/neurolinguistic/corpus evidence inform this question?
  4. What is the role of language-specific distributional properties in influencing the perception and processing of speech with respect to morphological structure?


We imagine papers on any number of specific phenomena that bear on these questions, including but certainly not limited to:

  • Learnability and how that influences morphological systems over time
  • ‘Template-emergent’ vs. ‘scope-emergent’ affix ordering as a typological dimension
  • Suffixing preference, i.e., the predominance of suffixation over prefixation in the world’s languages
  • Concatenation preference, i.e., the predominance of concatenative morphology over non-concatenative in the world’s languages
  • Morphological productivity, competition between forms, and their relationship to morphological processing and lexical organization
  • Linguistic perception and its relationship to tendencies in morphological marking
  • Empirical metrics of morphological complexity, especially in inflectional systems


What more information about the goals of the workshop? Check out the full project description.