The diachrony of inflectional classes in four Germanic languages

What happens after transparency is lost?

image of The diachrony of inflectional classes in four Germanic languages

Inflectional classes are classification systems lacking a discernible synchronic function. We ask how former functions can be lost and, more importantly, what happens after this loss. In a comparative analysis contrasting four Germanic languages (Swedish, Danish, Dutch and German) and two lexical categories (noun declensions versus verb conjugations), we describe changes in the number of allomorphs, their relation to grammatical category exponence and the conditioning of class membership. Inflectional classes are retained in all four languages but reorganized in several respects. The comparison reveals common principles (allomorphy is retained if tied to relevant categories) and divergences (different degrees of simplification in the conditioning and number of allomorphs). A general discussion relates the findings to grammaticalization and to fundamental differences of the lexical categories concerned, and considers the question of whether inflectional classes can be termed functional or not.

  • Affiliations: 1: University of Münster; 2: Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt
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