Faust – How real are roots and templates? Issues in non-concatenative morpho-phonology

The Modern Hebrew words [maχʃev, χiʃuv, χaʃav] ‘computer’, ‘calculation’, ‘accountant’ all share the three consonants <χ,ʃ,v> and a meaning related to some computational or cognitive process. Traditionally, such groups of words are therefore considered to be derived from that tripartite set, which is dubbed “the root” and claimed to carry that underspecified meaning. Morphological theories such as Distributed Morphology have capitalized on this property of Semitic and generalized the notion of the root to all languages. However, within Semitic there has been an ongoing debate on the psycholinguistic reality of the root. In the beginning of this course, we will survey the arguments that have been put forth for and against the root morpheme in Semitic, and discuss the consequences of the discussion to the generalization of the root category to all languages. At a second stage, we will continue to ponder the abstract nature of roots as we delve into the debate around of the existence of biradical roots (roots with two consonants, rather than three). Next, we will then turn to another, less well-studied peculiarity of Semitic languages, namely the prosodic template. A word like [χiʃuv], for instance, is said to have the template CiCuC. Here too there are two opinions: one which insists on the template as fixed syllabic space and one which reduced it to its vocalization. We will see that both approaches have drawbacks, and examine a hybrid view that does not share those drawbacks. Finally, we will explore the consequences of Semitic root-and-template morpho-phonology for the organization of the lexicon and the different stages of realization. We will see that there is reason to distinguish three levels of representation for roots: the formless index, the phonological index and the specific UR. We will end the course by relating it to the preceding course on allomorphy.


Bat-El, O. 1994. Stem modification and cluster transfer in Modern Hebrew’. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 12:4, 571–96
Faust, Noam. 2014. A novel, combined approach to Semitic word-formation. Journal of Semitic Studies LX/2: 287-316.
Faust, N. and Y. Hever. 2010. Empirical and theoretical arguments in favor of the discontinuous root in Semitic languages’, Brill’s Annual of Afroasiatic Languages and Linguistics 2: 80–118.