Suppletion (wholly unpredictable alternations such as or ) stands as the epitome of morphological irregularity. In the formal theoretical tradition, with a few exceptions, suppletion has long languished in obscurity, widely considered unlikely to be informative of deeper properties of grammar. This article reviews recent studies that find, as it were, order in chaos—robust patterns of regularity that emerge as significant, arguably universal generalizations in large, cross-linguistic samples. These patterns are indicative of the nature of abstract grammatical representation and, in particular, of constraints that regulate the interaction among the atomic elements that build these representations. Far from sitting in an obscure corner of the grammar and representing nothing more than the detritus of history, suppletive alternations may yet shed light on the nature of the mental representations that constitute grammars, thus providing indirect evidence for aspects of Universal Grammar in the broad sense.


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