Semantic regularities of the so-called irregular Internal Vowel Alternation (IVA) Nominal (<i>umlaut</i>) and Verbal (<i>ablaut</i>) forms in Old and Modern English

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<i>How does one cope, systematically, with the apparent chaos of the modern world? This question was being asked in a variety of fields, and the replies which Saussure gives &#8211; that you cannot hope to attain an absolute or Godlike view of things but must choose a perspective, and that within this perspective objects are defined by their relations with one another&#8230;</i>. (Culler 1976: XV) The Internal Vowel Alternation (IVA) system is considered to be &#8220;irregular&#8221; because it appears in a limited number of noun plurals (e.g. <i>foot-feet</i>) and Past Tense verb forms (e.g. <i>give-gave</i>) that have &#8220;survived&#8221; in Modern English from a more prevalent and productive process in Old English. Following a sign-oriented analysis of language, we postulate that the IVA constitutes a meta-system composed of signals (<i>signifiants</i>) that are connected to invariant meanings (<i>signifi&#233;s</i>) in a Saussurean sense. First, the IVA forms are systematically opposed phonologically and iconically: the IVA nominal forms undergo a fronting (originally called <i>umlaut</i>) process (&#8220;moving forward&#8221;/or increasing in the plural) while, conversely, the IVA verbal forms (originally called &#8220;strong&#8221; verbs with <i>ablaut</i>) undergo a <bi>backing</bi> process (&#8220;moving back in time&#8221; for the Past Tense). Secondly, the English IVA nominal and verbal forms are systematically motivated semantically and share Common Semantic Denominators (CSDs). All the nominal IVA forms have a marked distinctive semantic feature of &#8220;Semantic Integrality&#8221; (Tobin 1990, 1994/[1995]) and all the verbal IVA forms are marked by the distinctive semantic feature of &#8220;Result&#8221; (Tobin 1993a). Moreover, the various sub-classes of the more IVA nominal and verbal systems also share messages reflecting CSDs &#8211; and the more similar these IVA sub-classes are phonologically the closer their CSDs are semantically. Thus, our study connects the form-phonology and the meaning-semantics of the so-called irregular IVA forms and presents them as a full-fledged system of linguistic signs in English.


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