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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton April 28, 2019

Entrenchment and persistence in language change: the Spanish past subjunctive

  • Malte Rosemeyer EMAIL logo and Scott A. Schwenter


In this paper, we demonstrate that, like frequency, morphosyntactic persistence can have a conserving effect on language change. To substantiate this claim, we analyze the alternation between the Spanish past subjunctive forms ending in –ra and –se (as in comiera and comiese ‘had eaten’). Due to the ongoing replacement of –se by –ra, persistence and frequency are the best predictors of the alternation in our data. First, the persistence effect of a prior –se is significantly greater than the persistence effect of a prior –ra. Second, although –se is basically restricted to third person singular morphology in contexts without persistence, when primed by –se this restriction is drastically reduced. Our results also shed light on the relationship between frequency and persistence in language change. Although both result in conservation, the conserving effect of frequency causes irregularity such as the paradigmatic atrophy of Spanish –se forms. In contrast, persistence can temporarily re-establish paradigmatic regularity and consequently strengthen the cognitive representation of obsolescing constructions. However, this resuscitating effect of persistence appears to be restricted to low-frequency –se forms; because they are generally more entrenched, the activation of high-frequency –se forms relies less on persistence effects.

Funding statement: DFG Graduate School GRK 1624/1 “Frequency effects”; Research Fund Flanders (FWO), award K1G3316N; 2015–16 OSU Arts and Humanities Larger Grant Award for the project “Persistence and the Maintenance of Linguistic Variation.”

A Appendix

Table 5:

Full results from the logistic regression model.

VariableLeveln ran se% seBetaORSEZP
RecentNone23542439.35Reference level
Target_PersonThirdFalse452326.61Reference level
VerbFrequencyNumerical variable0.00011.00010.00003.3166<0.01**
Target_NumberSingular257332611.25Reference level
RegionEurope59910314.67Reference level
GenreAcademic284175.65Reference level
NegationFalse310234910.11Reference level
Syntax– Subordinated,

– apodosis
2272510.00Reference level
– Subordinated,


– protasis

AuxiliaryFalse30963299.61Reference level
Model evaluationAIC2294.4
c index of concordance0.740
Somers’ dxy0.480


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Published Online: 2019-04-28
Published in Print: 2019-05-27

© 2019 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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