MIT Occasional Papers in Linguistics #19

On the Notion of Theme Vowel: A New Approach to Catalan Verbal Morphology

M. I. O. Massuet, 2000

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This thesis discusses the internal constituent structure of the Catalan verbal forms, focussing on the investigation of three a priori unrelated issues that have remained unexplained in previous analyses: the allomorphy of the theme vowel, the allomorphy of the inflectional affixes and the cases of syncretism found across and within tenses. I develop a unified account of all of these facts within the framework of Distributed Morphology (Halle and Marantz 1993 and related work) that results from a new syntactic approach to the nature and function of the theme vowel.

The analysis consists of two main claims closely interrelated by the crucial role played by the theme vowel in both. First, I argue that the Catalan verbal system is organized in terms of markedness. The Catalan verbal conjugations are reanalyzed as complexes of abstract binary features that are hierarchically interrelated according to their degree of markedness. Second, I propose that the traditional theme vowel must be understood as the realization of a morphological well-formedness requirement on a functional head V. Crucially, I extend this requirement to all syntactic functional heads. This means that a given verbal form might have multiple theme vowels, as many as there are functional heads in the syntactic structure that correspond to single terminal nodes in the morphology. It is argued that this new functional-head-related notion of theme vowel serves to signal, in the morphology, the category 'verb' created in the syntax, thus providing empirical support for Marantz's (1997, 1999a, b) proposal that "the syntactic categories N, V, A are morphological categories created by the syntax."

This syntactic approach to Catalan verbal morphology has significant implications for the entire morphophonology of Catalan. First, it is shown that stress for verbs is fully predictable and results from the application of a single rule. Furthermore, I argue that stress in the nominal environment is mainly the result of the same process. In addition, it is shown that the application of the well-formedness requirement on functional heads unifies two as yet unrelated notions: verbal theme vowels and nominal class markers.