The development of case in Germanic

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In this article five existing explanations for the loss of case morphology in the Germanic languages are examined. These are (1) phonological erosion, (2) a change from synthetic to analytic language type, (3) a change from free to fixed word order, (4) the development of the definite article, and (5) a change from lexical to structural case. All five explanations are rejected in favor of (6) a usage-based constructional approach where the breakdown of the case system is expected on the basis of the fact that the argument structure constructions are partially synonymous. Hence, it is predicted that the case and argument structure constructions will either merge, with subsequent loss of case distinctions and case morphology, or that high type frequency constructions will attract new verbs and verbs from low type frequency constructions, gradually causing them to fall into disuse. English, Mainland Scandinavian and Dutch have taken the former path, while German, Icelandic and Faroese have developed along the latter.


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