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Hierarchical Morphological Structure and Ambiguity

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  • Carl Vikner, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
  • Sten Vikner
  • Department of English

English has a number of adjectives of the type unXable, adjectives that contain the prefix un- and the adjectivising suffix -able, e.g. unlockable or undoable. Many of these adjectives are ambiguous. If a door is unlockable, it may either mean that it cannot be locked (it is not lockable), as expressed in Danish, French and German by ulåselig, inverrouillable and unverschließbar, or it may mean that it can be unlocked, as expressed in Danish, French and German by oplåselig, déverrouillable and aufschließbar.

Following a long series of discussions, ranging from introductory textbooks like Stewart & Vaillette (2001: 121) over theoretical articles like Larson & Ludlow (1993: 317) to psycholinguistic treatments like Almeida & Libben (2005: 374), we will take the two different interpretations of unlockable to be the result of the adjectives in question having two different possible structural analyses, viz. one in which the immediate constituents are un and lockable, and another one where the immediate constituents are unlock and -able.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationL'énonciation dans tous ses états : Mélanges offerts à Henning Nølke
EditorsMerete Birkelund, Maj-Britt Mosegaard Hansen, Coco Norén
Number of pages20
PublisherPeter Lang
Publication year2008
Pages541-560
ISBN (print)978-3-03911-586-0
Publication statusPublished - 2008

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