Congratulations to Ryan Lepic

Congratulations to Ryan Lepic, who defended his dissertation “Motivation in Morphology: Lexical Patterns in ASL and English” on Thursday, August 13, 2015.


Words that are systematically related in form and meaning exhibit morphological structure. A fundamental question in morphological theory concerns the nature of this structure, and the role that it serves in grammatical organization. One characterization of morphological structure, the morpheme-based perspective, views complex words as constructed from smaller, independently meaningful pieces. An alternative characterization, the word-based perspective, views whole words as participating in patterns that are abstracted over networks of surface words, whether “simple” or “complex”.


This dissertation explores the consequences of these two views of morphological structure, as they apply to the analysis of American Sign Language and English. Here I show that the morphological structure of a variety of words in ASL and in English can be analyzed in terms of constructions, or learned pairings of form and meaning. These morphological constructions range from simple and concrete, in the case of actually-occurring surface words, to more schematic and complex, in the case of recurring patterns and sub-patterns extracted from whole surface words. Comparing compounds, derived words, borrowed words, and lexical blends in a spoken language and a sign language reveals that though many words can be analyzed into component pieces, the identifiable pieces may do very little to determine the meaning of the particular word. Instead, word internal structure is a reflection of the structure of the networks, or lexical families, that whole words participate in.


This exploration demonstrates that rather than primarily compositional, and resulting from the combination of meaningful parts, word-internal structure is relational, serving to link words together, within and across families. As a construction-theoretic analysis of derivational morphology in a spoken language and a sign language, this dissertation ties together and provides a unified analysis for a range of empirical phenomena. I anticipate that this study will also provide a point of departure for future studies of spoken and sign language morphology, either together or in isolation, from a construction-theoretic and word-based perspective.