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Bloomfieldian semiotics

Within the Bloomfieldian model, morphemic analysis isolates a lexical relation between meaning and form. Morphemes were ‘lexical forms’ with meanings, which Bloomfield termed ‘sememes’. This position is clearly expressed in Postulate 9 in Bloomfield (1926) and repeated in Bloomfield’s Language:

In the case of lexical forms, we have defined the smallest meaningful units as morphemes and their meanings as sememes... (Bloomfield 1933:166)

In the semiotic terms proposed by Saussure (1916), morphemes represent the signifiants of a minimal lexical sign and sememes represent the signifies. There is no Bloomfieldian term for the sign, encompassing signifiant and signifie.

As emphasized by Bloomfield’s ‘lexical’ qualification, morphemic analysis represents one dimension of analysis, at the level of form as well as at the level of meaning. Although it is now conventional to apply the term ‘form’ to segmental units of various sizes, this is not the usage that Bloomfield adopts. Instead, Bloomfield treats arrangements as minimal units of grammatical form, parallel to minimal units of lexical form. Each type of form is paired with a characteristic meaning. Sememes are associated with morphemes and episememes with grammatical arrangements. This leads, as Matthews (1993:75) remarks, to analyses in which a notion such as plurality is multiply expressed. A plural sememe is associated with the English plural marker in regular formations. A plural episememe is likewise associated with the plural construction that selects a basic stem and plural marker in regular formations, and other combinations in irregulars. Hence a regular form such as books

is associated with the plural sememe from the ending -s and with the plural epise- meme associated with the taxeme of selection that defines the plural construction.

The Bloomfieldian model is of interest in its own right, not least because of the points of contact between Bloomfieldian ‘arrangements’ and the discriminative contrasts discussed in Chapter 8. However in the context of the development of morphemic analysis, the atomistic perspective of the Bloomfieldian model is its main legacy. The reduction of morphological analysis to morphemic analysis came later, as did notions of feature-form biuniqueness.

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