Spelling errors in English derivational suffixes reflect morphological boundary strength
A case study
Ingo Plag |
Heinrich-Heine Universität Düsseldorf
To what extent do speakers decompose morphologically complex words, such as segmentable, into their
morphological constituents? In this article, we argue that spelling errors in English affixes reflect morphological boundary
strength and degrees of segmentability. In support of this argument, we present a case study examining the spelling of the
suffixes -able/-ible, -ence/-ance, and -ment in an online resource (Tweets), in
forms such as <availible>, <invisable>, <eloquance>, and <bettermint>. Based on previous research on
morphological productivity and boundary strength (Hay, 2002; Hay & Baayen, 2002, 2005), we hypothesized that
morphological segmentability should affect the choice between <able> vs. <ible>, <ance> vs. <ence>, and
<ment> vs. <-mint>. An analysis of roughly 23,000 non-standard spellings is consistent with that hypothesis,
underscoring the usefulness of spelling variation as a source of evidence for morphological segmentability and for the role of
morphological representations in language production and comprehension.
Keywords: spelling, misspellings, derivation, affixes, orthography, morphological boundaries, morphology
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