Mapping Principle (in morphology)

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In morphology, the Mapping Principle is a principle proposed by Sproat (1985) to relate the phono-morphological and the syntactico-semantic level of representation of complex words to each other. He basically proposes the Mapping Principle to account for the so-called bracketing paradoxes.


A standard example of a bracketing paradox is ungrammaticality. The phono-morphological representation of this form will include the information that un- is an unstressed prefix, and that -ity is a suffix which attracts stress to the previous syllable. The syntactico-semantic representation will include the information that un- selects adjectives and means 'NOT', and that -ity creates abstract nouns from adjectives. Furthermore, at the phono-morphological level hierarchical structure plays a relatively small role. Instead, strict adjacency tends to be much more relevant. On the other hand, at the syntactico-semantic level, linear order seems to be of little importance. Here, hierarchical structure or sisterhood between morphemes is crucial. At the syntactico-semantic level the representations of ungrammaticality in (i) are equivalent, since linear order is irrelevant. At the phono-morphological level the representations of ungrammaticality in (ii) are also equivalent, since hierarchical structure is irrelevant at this level of representation:


(ii) [[un [grammatical]] ity] <=> [un [[grammatical] ity]]

Sproat defines his Mapping Principle in such a way that [[un [grammatical]] ity] can be rebracketed as [un [[grammatical] ity]], since morphological principles such as level ordering demand it.

Related term



  • Spencer 1991
  • Sproat 1985


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