This paper examines the phenomenon of lability in Estonian. We describe the types of lability found in our database and the distribution of verbs according to formal (derivational) and semantic verb classes, and we propose an explanation for the spread of lability in the Estonian verbal lexicon. Estonian displays a wealth of labile verbs, compared with Finnish, for instance, a closely related language which uses similar (derivational and morphosyntactic) valency changing devices. We argue that Estonian lability has been co-conditioned by the following factors: a) intensive contact with German, a language rich in labile verbs, b) fluctuations in the productivity and regularity of the valency-decreasing derivation in the recent history of Estonian, c) the phonetic merger of different derivational suffixes leading to misinterpretation of the valency patterns of their derivatives, and d) form-driven analogy. In relation to the last factor we introduce the notion of “clustered lability,” which designates the expansion of the labile pattern over verbs sharing the same root.
©2014 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin/Boston