On the relationship between morphological and semantic markedness: The case of plural morphology

Alan Bale, Michaël Gagnon, Hrayr Khanjian

This paper explores two possible connections between the diagnostics for morphological and semantic markedness. One possibility, a positive correlation, predicts that if a grammatical feature is diagnosed as being morphologically marked then it should also be semantically marked. This possibility follows as a consequence of the assumption that features are interpreted as restrictions on denotations. The second possibility, a negative correlation, predicts that if a grammatical feature is diagnosed as being morphologically marked then it should be semantically unmarked. This systematic inconsistency follows from the assumption that features are interpreted as augmenting functions. In our exploration of number marking, we find that the negative correlation is not only theoretically consistent with the semantic literature (in particular Link, 1983), but it is also more consistent with the empirical landscape (as noted by Sauerland, 2008). As a result, the morphological diagnostics lend support to the view that plural features are interpreted as augmenting functions.