Linguistics Speaker Series: Jeffrey Punske

Compounding in Ewe

Selikem Gotah and Jeffrey Punske
Southern Illinois University

In this talk, we address the primary accounts of compounding within Distributed Morphology: Incorporation (Harley 2009) and m-merger (Siddiqi 2009, Harðarson 2017). We show that Ewe compound facts are inconsistent with an m-merger/conflation based account, because they allow modificational elements larger than nP—namely PP, as shown in (1) and (2) and illustrate head-modifier dependencies that are best accounted for through an incorporation account.

(1)    aba-dzi-vɔ                              (2) tɔ-me-lã

bed-on-cloth                               river-in-animal

‘bedsheet’                                   ‘fish’

Harley (2009) presents a Distributed Morphology account of compounding wherein all forms of compounds (primary and synthetic) are the result of incorporation (in the sense of Baker 1988). Subsequent work have argued for hybrid approaches to compounding: Jackson and Punske (2013) argue that certain modificational relationships that appear to be compound-like are not compounds, but compounding generally is incorporation as in Harley (2009); Harðarson (2017) and Fenger and Harðarson (2018) argue for a split account wherein synthetic compounds (e.g. truck-driver) are derived via incorporation (Harley 2009) while primary compounds (e.g. motherland) are derived via m-merger/conflation (in the sense of Matushansky 2006).

For Harðarson (2017), m-merger nor incorporation does not occur when the modifying specifier is a full DP or PP (see p. 47). Similarly, the alternative conflation analysis cannot operate under with the presence of the additional functional structure.

In contrast, while Harley’s (2009) incorporation account, while it also prefers nPs, allows for phrasal compounds provided that the phrasal elements undergo zero-derivation to a nominal category. We argue instead that in Ewe either nP or PP are viable targets for incorporation and the form the modifier takes is driven by selectional restrictions of the head (generally following Punske and Jackson 2017). This is illustrated by examples (3)-(6) below which show the contrast between nP compounds (3&4) and PP compounds (5&6).

    (3) agbeli-gble                                             (4)  maŋgo-ti
cassava-farm                                               mango-tree                                                                  ‘cassava farm’                                    ‘mango tree’

      (5) gbedoxɔ-me-afi                                    (6)  tɔ-dzi-ʋu                                                                    church.building-in-mouse                          river-on-vehicle                                                              ‘church mouse’                                             ‘canoe’   

Ewe arguably lacks primary compounds—given that all of its compounds have a clear modificational relationship and lack ambiguity. Following Jackson and Punske’s (2015) discussion of cross-linguistic differences in Persian and English, we hold that this may be due to differences in functional requirements.


Jeffrey Punske is an Assistant Professor at Southern Illinois University with previous employment at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania and Oklahoma University. He earned his PhD in 2012 from the University of Arizona. His research focuses broadly on issues of morphosyntax and lexical semantics from a Distributed Morphology perspective and on the development of pedagogy for Linguistics instruction. He has been published in journals such as the Canadian Journal of Linguistics, Linguistic Analysis & Lingua. He has a forthcoming co-edited volume from Oxford University Press on the use of constructed languages for Linguistics pedagogy.

Friday, October 12 at 3:30pm to 5:00pm

Poulton Hall, 230
1421 37th St., N.W., Washington


Georgetown College, Linguistics


Jeffrey Punske, Southern Illinois University

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Ben Croner

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