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Is the development of linking elements in German a case of exaptation?

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Abstract

The development of linking elements in German has usually been analysed as a case of exaptation. In this paper, a more differentiated picture of this development is presented. What at first sight seems to be a clear case of exaptation (old form > new function) turns out to be a complex process consisting of two stages: (1) the development of a first layer of linking vowels in Old High German (new but related function) out of Proto-Germanic primary suffixes (old form); and (2) the subsequent development of a second layer of linking elements from inflectional (genitive) endings. Based on historical evidence, it is argued that the second stage should be analysed as a case of formal renovation. This is due to the fact that this reinforcement took place while the old linking system was still productive.

References

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