Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton July 28, 2019

Phonological constraints on morphology: Evidence from Old English nominal inflection

  • Elżbieta Adamczyk EMAIL logo and Arjen P. Versloot
From the journal Folia Linguistica


Studying the complex interaction between phonological and morphological developments involved in the extensive reorganisation of nominal inflection in early English, we focus, primarily, on new inflectional endings that emerged by analogy in etymologically suffix-less paradigm forms of r-stems and root nouns. We argue that the analogical changes were essentially reactive to phonological developments, and to a large extent predictable in statistical terms. Investigating correlations in corpus data, we identify the factors that affected the probability that new analogical endings were adopted. The predictors of the directions of analogical change that we show to be robust include the syllable structure of the root, the salience of inherited and analogical inflectional markers, as well as their absolute and relative frequencies.


We are very grateful to two anonymous reviewers as well as to the editors of the volume for their insightful remarks and comments, which helped to improve the quality of the paper. We would like to thank especially one of the anonymous reviewers for her/his suggestions on the revision of the section on phonological structure.


Adamczyk, Elżbieta. 2018. Reshaping of the nominal inflection in early northern west Germanic. (NOWELE Supplement Series). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.10.1075/nss.31Search in Google Scholar

Antilla, Raimo. 1977. Analogy. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.10.1075/lisl.1Search in Google Scholar

Auer, Peter. 1993. Is a rhythm-based typology possible? A study on the role of prosody in phonological typology. (KontRI Working Paper 21). Konstanz: Universität Konstanz.Search in Google Scholar

Bermel, Neil & Luděk Knittl. 2012. Corpus frequency and acceptability judgments: A study of morphosyntactic variants in Czech. Corpus Linguistics and Linguistic Theory 8(2). 241–275.10.1515/cllt-2012-0010Search in Google Scholar

Booij, Geert. 1996. Inherent versus contextual inflection and the split morphology hypothesis. In Geert Booij & Jaap van Marle (eds.), Yearbook of Morphology 1995, 1–16. Dordrecht: Springer.10.1007/978-94-017-3716-6Search in Google Scholar

Boutkan, Dirk. 1995. The Germanic ‘Auslautgesetze’. Amsterdam & Atlanta: Rodopi.Search in Google Scholar

Brown, Gordon D. A. 1984. Frequency count of 190,000 words in the London-Lund corpus of English conversation. Journal of Behavior Research Methods, Instruments & Computers 16(6). 502–532.10.3758/BF03200836Search in Google Scholar

Bybee, Joan. 2007. Frequency of use and the organisation of language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195301571.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Bybee, Joan. 2010. Language, usage and cognition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511750526Search in Google Scholar

Campbell, Alistair. 1977. Old English grammar. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Search in Google Scholar

Campbell, Lyle. 2004. Historical linguistics: An introduction. 2nd edn. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.Search in Google Scholar

Corbett, Greville, Andrew Hippisley, Dunstan Brown & Paul Marriott. 2001. Frequency, regularity and the paradigm: A perspective from Russian on a complex relation. In Joan Bybee & Paul Hopper (eds.), Frequency and the emergence of linguistic structure, 201–226. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.10.1075/tsl.45.11corSearch in Google Scholar

Dammel, Antje & Sebastian Kürschner. 2008. Complexity in nominal plural allomorphy: A contrastive survey of ten Germanic languages. In Matti Miestamo, Kaius Sinnemäki & Fred Karlsson (eds.), Language complexity: Typology, contact, change, 243–262. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.10.1075/slcs.94.15damSearch in Google Scholar

Dehaene, Stanislas. 2003. The neural basis of the Weber–Fechner Law: A logarithmic mental number line. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 7(4). 145–147.10.1016/S1364-6613(03)00055-XSearch in Google Scholar

Diessel, Holger. 2007. Frequency effects in language acquisition, language use, and diachronic change. New Ideas in Psychology 25(2). 104–123.10.1016/j.newideapsych.2007.02.002Search in Google Scholar

Dresher, Elan B. & Aditi Lahiri. 1991. The Germanic foot: Metrical coherence in Old English. Linguistic Inquiry 22. 251–286.Search in Google Scholar

Fertig, David. 2013. Analogy and morphological change. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.10.1515/9780748646234Search in Google Scholar

Goering, Nelson. 2016. Early Old English foot structure. Transactions of the Philological Society 114(2). 171–197.10.1111/1467-968X.12079Search in Google Scholar

Goldschneider, Jennifer & Robert DeKeyser. 2001. Explaining the ‘natural order of L2 morpheme acquisition’ in English: A meta-analysis of multiple determinants. Language Learning 51. 1–50.10.1111/1467-9922.00147Search in Google Scholar

Goldsmith, John A. 1990. Autosegmental and metrical phonology. Oxford: Blackwell.Search in Google Scholar

Greenberg, Joseph. 1966. Language universals. The Hague: Mouton.Search in Google Scholar

Harnisch, Rüdiger. 2001. Grundform- und Stamm-Prinzip in der Substantivmorphologie des Deutschen. Heidelberg: Winter.Search in Google Scholar

Haspelmath, Martin. 2006. Against markedness (and what to replace it with). Journal of Linguistics 42(1). 25–70.10.1017/S0022226705003683Search in Google Scholar

Haspelmath, Martin. 2008. Frequency vs. iconicity in explaining grammatical asymmetries. Cognitive Linguistics 19(1). 1–33.10.1515/COG.2008.001Search in Google Scholar

Haspelmath, Martin & Andrea Sims. 2010. Understanding morphology. London: Routledge.Search in Google Scholar

Hawkins, John A. 2004. Efficiency and complexity in grammars. Oxford: Oxford University Press.10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199252695.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Healey, Antonette diPaolo, Joan Holland, D. McDougall, Ian McDougall & Xin Xiang (eds.). 2009. The dictionary of Old English corpus in electronic form. Toronto: Toronto University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Hock, Hans H. 2003. Analogical change. In Brian D. Joseph & Richard D. Janda (eds.), The handbook of historical linguistics, 441–460. Oxford: Blackwell.10.1002/9780470756393.ch11Search in Google Scholar

Hoekstra, Eric & Arjen P. Versloot. 2019. Factors promoting the retention of irregularity: On the interplay of salience, absolute frequency and proportional frequency in West Frisian plural morphology. Morphology 29. 31–50.10.1007/s11525-018-9334-2Search in Google Scholar

Hogg, Richard M. 2011 [1992]. A grammar of Old English. Volume I: Phonology. Oxford: Blackwell.10.1002/9781444341355Search in Google Scholar

Hogg, Richard M. & R. D. Fulk. 2011. A grammar of Old English. Volume II: Morphology. Oxford: Blackwell.10.1002/9781444327472Search in Google Scholar

Hooper, Joan B. 1976. An introduction to natural generative phonology. New York: Academic Press.Search in Google Scholar

Hosmer, David W. & Stanley Lemeshow. 1989. Applied logistic regression. New York: John Wiley and Sons.Search in Google Scholar

Jespersen, Otto. 1904. Lehrbuch der Phonetik. Leipzig & Berlin: B. G. Teubner.Search in Google Scholar

Kastovsky, Dieter. 1995. Morphological reanalysis and typology: The case of the German r-plural and why English did not develop it. In Henning Andersen (ed.), Historical linguistics: Selected Papers from the Eleventh International Conference on Historical Linguistics, 227–238. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.10.1075/cilt.124.18kasSearch in Google Scholar

Kusmenko, Jurij K. 2005. The history of quantity in the Scandinavian languages. Tijdschrift voor Skandinavistiek 26(2). 127–144.Search in Google Scholar

Lahiri, Aditi & B. Elan Dresher. 1984. Diachronic and synchronic implications of declension shifts. The Linguistic Review 3. 141–163.10.1515/tlir.1983.3.2.141Search in Google Scholar

Lahiri, Aditi & B. Elan Dresher. 1999. Open syllable lengthening in West Germanic. Language 75(4). 678–719.10.2307/417730Search in Google Scholar

Minkova, Donka & Robert P. Stockwell. 1994. Syllable weight, prosody, and meter in Old English. Diachronica 11(1). 35–64.10.1075/dia.11.1.05minSearch in Google Scholar

Nooteboom, Sibout G. & Antonie Cohen. 1995. Spreken en verstaan. Een nieuwe inleiding tot de experimentele fonetiek [Speak and understand. A new introduction to experimental phonetics]. Assen: Van Gorcum.Search in Google Scholar

Paul, Hermann. 1886. Prinzipien der Sprachgeschichte. Tübingen: Niemeyer.Search in Google Scholar

Ramat, Paolo. 2012. Sturtevant’s paradox revisited. In Thomas Stolz, Hitomi Otsuka, Aina Urdze & Johan van der Auwera (eds.), Irregularity in morphology (and beyond). Berlin: Akademie Verlag.Search in Google Scholar

Ryan, Kevin M. 2011. Gradient syllable weight and weight universals in quantitative metrics. Phonology 28. 413–454.10.1017/S0952675711000212Search in Google Scholar

Schuchardt, Hugo. 1885. Über die Lautgesetze. Gegen die Junggrammatiker. Oppenheim: Berlin.Search in Google Scholar

Selkirk, Elisabeth. 1984. On the major class features and syllable theory. In Mark Aronoff & Richard T. Oehrle (eds.), Language sound structure: Studies in phonology, 107–136. Cambridge: MIT Press.Search in Google Scholar

Smith, Laura C. 2007. Old Frisian vowel balance and its relationship to West Germanic apocope and syncope. In Rolf H. Bremmer Jr., Stephen Laker & Oebele Vries (eds.), Advances in Old Frisian Philology, 379–410. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi.10.1163/9789401204217_017Search in Google Scholar

Sturtevant, Edgar H. 1947. An introduction to linguistic science. New Haven: Yale University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Szczepaniak, Renata. 2007a. Der phonologisch-typologische Wandel des Deutschen von einer Silben- zu einer Wortsprache. Berlin: de Gruyter.10.1515/9783110921656Search in Google Scholar

Szczepaniak, Renata. 2007b. Vokalharmonie im Althochdeutschen und im Walserdeutschen: Ein Fall von phonologisch-typologischer Kontinuität. Zeitschrift Für Dialektologie und Linguistik 74(1). 38–60.Search in Google Scholar

Tiersma, Peter M. 1982. Local and general markedness. Language 58(4). 832–849.10.2307/413959Search in Google Scholar

Versloot, Arjen P. 2014. Die -ar-Plurale im Altwestfriesischen mit einem Exkurs über die sächlichen Plurale im Westfriesischen. Us Wurk 63. 93–114.Search in Google Scholar

Versloot, Arjen P. & Elżbieta Adamczyk. 2014. Corpus size and composition: Evidence from the inflectional morphology of nouns in Old English and Old Frisian. In Rolf H. Bremmer Jr., Stephen Laker & Oebele Vries (eds.), Directions for Old Frisian philology. Amsterdamer Beiträge zur älteren Germanistik, vol. 73. 539–569. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.10.1163/9789401211918_021Search in Google Scholar

Versloot, Arjen P. & Elżbieta Adamczyk. 2018. Plural inflection in North Sea Germanic languages: A multivariate analysis of morphological variation. In Antje Dammel, Matthias Eitelmann & Mirjam Schmuck (eds.), Reorganising grammatical variation. Diachronic studies in the retention, redistribution and refunctionalisation of linguistic variants (Studies in language companion series), 17–55. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.10.1075/slcs.203.02verSearch in Google Scholar

Wurzel, Wolfgang U. 1990. Morphologisierung – Komplexität – Natürlichkeit. Ein Beitrag zur Begriffsklärung. In Norbert Boretzky, Werner Enninger & Thomas Stolz (eds.), Spielarten der Natürlichkeit – Spielarten der Ökonomie, 129–153. Bochum: N. Brockmeyer.Search in Google Scholar

Received: 2018-06-17
Revised: 2018-12-04
Accepted: 2019-12-17
Published Online: 2019-07-28
Published in Print: 2019-07-26

© 2019 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

Downloaded on 10.12.2023 from
Scroll to top button