This thesis is concerned with the nominal (noun and adjective) inflections in Damascus Arabic (DA). In particular, the focus is on the so-called feminine suffix -at ~ -et. Several phenomena associated with this suffix are examined: a) allomorphy, b) syncretism, and c) optional agreement. The thesis offers a default-based account within the framework of Network Morphology. It demonstrates that different notions of default (e.g. default inheritance, overriding default, global inheritance, and exceptional case) provide a unified and elegant account for the multiple phenomena under study.
The vocalic alternation between -[a]t and -[e]t represents a case of the dissociation between morphology and phonology, where a single morpheme corresponds to two phonological realizations. I propose a declarative morphological account as opposed to the traditional procedural phonological one that relies on the notion of the underlying form. I argue that -[e]t is the default allomorph, contrary to the widely assumed belief that -[a]t is the underlying vowel which raises to -[e]t. The notion of “default inheritance” allows us to treat the shared inflection among nominals (noun and adjective) as a main generalization that is positioned at the top of the inheritance hierarchy. This generalization is inherited by all classes of nominal, thus, -[e]t is represented as the “elsewhere” allomorph. The limited distribution of -[a]t to nominals with stem-final pharyngeals is treated as an “overriding default” specific to this class of nominals that overrides the main default.
The syncretism between plural and -et agreement with the plural of the human class manifests a dissociation between morphology and syntax, whereby morphology fails to make a distinction that is required by syntax. For this language-specific syncretism, rules of referral are necessary to predict that the plural and feminine singular share a cell in the adjectival inflectional paradigm. With the benefit of the notion of “global inheritance”, this sharing of the cell is generalizable to all agreeing categories (i.e. verbs, demonstratives, pronouns, and possessive markers) that have the same pattern of syncretism. The global inheritance principle is superior in its simplicity and predictability power, by which a simple rule of referral makes it possible for a single cell (i.e. plural) in one paradigm (i.e. adjectives) to predict other cells (i.e. plurals) in multiple paradigms (i.e. verbs, demonstratives, etc.).
Finally, the alternation between the plural and -et agreement with human nouns is handled by the notion of the “exceptional case default”. The regular behaviour of plurals in human nouns is to have strict plural agreement. However, for non-concatenative plural nouns, alternations occur. The irregularity of the non-concatenative plural is still manageable and predictable if we assume that the -et agreement is an “exceptional” default that applies only when plural nouns have non-concatenative morphology. Then, the alternation can be explained based on whether speakers resort to the “normal” default (i.e. plural agreement) which is positioned at the top of the hierarchy or to the “exceptional” default (i.e. -et agreement) as an overriding default positioned lower at the level of the non-concatenative subclass of human nouns.