The resilient nature of adjectival inflection in Dutch

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The rich Germanic adjectival inflection dramatically eroded in the history of Dutch as part of a general process of deflection. At present, Dutch is left with what appears to be a vestigial structure: an alternation between an inflected form in schwa and an uninflected form, the distribution of which is semantically ill-motivated. As a consequence, one might expect that the inflection is moribund and that Dutch will follow its West Germanic neighbor English in doing away with this dysfunctional piece of morphology. This is not what is happening, though. Dutch adjectival inflection is remarkably resilient. In this article it is argued that this resilience is due to refunctionalization. The inflectional schwa is turning into a transparent marker of attributive adjectives, and comes to function as a watershed between the modification and determination zone in the noun phrase. This account explains many erratic inflectional patterns in non-standard language. The whole reanalysis is a long-term process, which has not yet come to completion, but the existence of the process is supported by a detailed investigation of corpus data.


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