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Publicly Available Published by De Gruyter Mouton December 9, 2017

Macroscopic and microscopic typology: Basic Valence Orientation, more pertinacious than meets the naked eye

  • Frans Plank EMAIL logo and Aditi Lahiri
From the journal Linguistic Typology


Basic Valence Orientation has been suggested as a typological parameter by Nichols, Peterson, & Barnes (2004). Generalising over the entire lexicon, the idea is that languages can be distinguished as transitivising or detransitivising, depending on whether their verbs are basically intransitive or transitive and the opposite valency values require some means of derivation, such as causativisation or decausativisation. Whereas derivedness among valency opposites is assessed through easy-to-spot overt segmental morphological or syntactic markers by Nichols et . (2004), we argue that phonological alternations, on their own or attendant upon conjugation class switches between intransitives and transitives, can be as directed as derivations are which are implemented through adding segmental markers. Illustrating from German, we show that stem vowel patterns in strong and corresponding weak verbs (with the former expressing inflectional categories through ablaut) as well as umlaut alternations in verb derivation are systematically involved in valency oppositions and are both directed. Thus, German emerges as being typologically mixed, being strongly transitivising on the grounds of such asymmetric formal patterns, while also showing (as observed by Nichols et . 2004) a detransitivising or indeterminate disposition through syntactic “middle” marking or verb lability. This typological result is also of diachronic significance, insofar as the older transitivising inclination is seen to have been remarkably pertinacious, long surviving the loss of the affixal valencyincreasing morphology of Common Germanic and able to hold its own against more recent detransitivising competition.

Received: 2011-9-5
Revised: 2015-1-31
Published Online: 2017-12-9
Published in Print: 2017-12-20

© 2017 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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