Jonathan Bobaljik will give the department colloquium Frida, December 7, at 3:30 PM in Machmer E-37. A title and abstract follow.
Suppletion Beyond Superlatives
In Bobaljik (2012) [Universals in Comparative Morphology. MIT Press], I provided an extended argument, from the morphology of comparative and superlative formation, for abstract hierarchical structure in words, prior to the rules of vocabulary insertion that map this structure to phonological exponents. The key evidence is drawn from suppletion (good-better-best). I argue that in suppletion - by definition the most irregular of morphological phenomena - there are a number of (near) universal patterns that emerge across large, cross-linguistic samples. For example, (virtually) no language has a suppletive pattern of the sort: *good-better-goodest or *good-gooder-best -- if either the comparative or the superlative is suppletive (w.r.t. to the positive), then so is the other. The explanation of these patterns, I submit, requires (hidden) structure, in this case, a structure in which the superlative always properly contains (is derived from) the comparative, and is never directly attached to the adjective. Thus, forms like English tall-est must have a hidden comparative.
The results from the study of comparatives and superlatives, if correct, should extend beyond this morphological domain and provide a test for abstract structure in morphology much more generally. After summarizing the work on comparatives and superlatives, I report on the current state of efforts to go further and investigate the generalized predictions in other suppletive domains, including suppletion for verbal number and pronominal case.