Reference : The rise of the Germanic weak suffix against all odds. An agent-based simulation
Scientific congresses and symposiums : Unpublished conference/Abstract
Arts & humanities : Languages & linguistics
The rise of the Germanic weak suffix against all odds. An agent-based simulation
Pijpops, Dirk mailto [Université de Liège - ULiège > Département de langues modernes : ling., litt. et trad. > Département de langues modernes : ling., litt. et trad. >]
Beuls, Karlien [> >]
Van de Velde, Freek [> >]
Morphology Days
[en] 1. A hostile environment In most present-day Germanic languages, the weak inflection (work-worked) offers a well-established and regular strategy for past tense formation. In contrast, the strong inflection (sing-sang) currently seems no more than a diminishing rubble of sub-rules and irregularities (Harbert, 2007, p. 277). Still, things were once different. Language reconstruction shows that around the time of the birth of the weak-inflection, the strong inflection is likely to have been both clearly regular and dominant in frequency (Bailey, 1997). To explain the conundrum of how a nascent weak dental suffix could have possibly gained the upper hand in such a hostile environment, researchers usually refer to sound changes undermining the regularity of the strong system (Bailey, 1997, p. 17; Ball, 1968, p. 164). We will claim that this assumption is not needed. Instead, the rise of the weak inflection may be initially caused by nothing more than its general applicability, i.e. its ability to be – in principle – applied to any verb. In addition, this general applicability proves capable of explaining that the rise of the weak inflection (i) first affects low frequency verbs, and only later high frequency verbs, and (ii) more heavily affects particular ablaut classes than others. In concert, these effects may create the conditions in which a perfectly functioning strong ablaut system can be surrendered to the disruptive influence of sound changes without causing a problem to the language users. 2. Model design and behavior We ran an agent-based model (Gilbert, 2008), containing the following features: • There are no irregular verbs, nor ways for verbs or ablaut classes to become irregular. • The weak dental suffix starts out inferior in both type and token frequency to each individual strong ablaut class. • All verbs in the model can be conjugated both strongly and weakly. • The only difference between the strong ablaut classes and weak dental suffix lies in the dental suffix’s general applicability. • The agents do not show any (socially attributed) preference for one of the variants, neither in acquisition nor use. Instead, the simply prefer the variant that they more often hear. • Agents age and are gradually replaced. • The verbs show a realistic, Zipfian frequency distribution (Zipf, 1932). Under these conditions, it is shown that a gradual rise of the weak dental suffix will take place, first attacking the low-frequency verbs and the low-frequency ablaut classes. Highly frequent ablaut classes prove capable of protecting their low-frequent members against weakening. These effects emerge independently of specific parameter settings.

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