Form and function: a study on the distribution of the inflectional endings in Italian nouns and adjectives


Frontiers in Psychology - Special Issue: Implications of Psycho-computational Modelling for Morphological Theory


June, 2021


Valentina Pescuma, Chiara Zanini, Davide Crepaldi, Francesca Franzon [Valentina and Chiara share first authorship]

Inflectional values, such as singular and plural, sustain agreementrelations between constituents in sentences, allowing sentence parsing and prediction in online processing. Ideally, these processes would be facilitated by a consistent and transparent correspondence between  the  inflectional values and their form: for example, the value of plural should always be expressed by the same ending, and that ending should only express plural. Experimental research reports higher processing costs in presence of a non-transparent relation between endings and values. While this effect was found in several languages, and typological research shows that consistency is far from common in morphological paradigms, it is still somewhat difficult to precisely quantify the degree of transparency of inflected forms. Furthermore, to date, no accounts have quantified the extent to which transparency in inflection is expressed across different parts of speech, depending on whether these act as controllers of the agreement (e.g., nouns) or as targets (e.g., adjectives), and how it relates to the declensional classes. We present a case study on Italian, a language that marks gender and number features in nouns and adjectives. This work provides measures of the distribution of forms in the noun and adjective inflection in Italian, quantifies the degree of form-value transparency with respect to inflectional endings and declensional classes. In order to obtain these measures, we built Flex It, a dedicated large-scale database of inflectional morphology of Italian, and made it available, in order to sustain further theoretical and empirical and research.
The preprint is available at:
The database and code are available at: