Volume 4, Issue 2
  • ISSN 2210-2116
  • E-ISSN: 2210-2124
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Although it has been widely assumed in historical linguistics that semantics plays a crucial role in analogical change, it is difficult to pinpoint the contribution of the semantic factor, since meaning and form work closely together in bringing about language change. The purpose of the present article is to shed light on the issue by means of two case studies from Russian, which enable us to isolate the role of semantics. The hypothesis we test is that analogical change is restricted to semantically homogeneous domains. We call this the Semantic Homogeneity Constraint. Two phenomena from Russian conjugation are explored: suffix shift and NU-drop. Although they seem parallel, analogical change occurs in the former, but not in the latter. It is argued that this is because the verbs involved in suffix shift constitute a semantically homogeneous domain, within which analogical change can take place. By contrast, NU-verbs are semantically diverse, and these semantic differences create boundaries which block analogical change. The findings have implications both for Russian and general linguistics. While suffix shift and NU-drop are well-known phenomena in Russian conjugation, they have not been juxtaposed and compared before. Our comparison provides new insights about the differences and similarities of the two phenomena. From the perspective of historical linguistics, the present article contributes to the theory of analogy, insofar as we provide empirical evidence for the Semantic Homogeneity Constraint, which places restrictions on semantic domains where analogical change can take place.


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