October 11, 2016
The concept of linguistic “naturalness” and “natural change” has its origin in phonology: there it now not only involves the simplification of “difficult” sounds, but also phonotactic reductions which then in turn can produce highly marked units. In the ‘Eighties’, the theory of “morphological naturalness” was then put forward, with the initial postulate that all natural morphological change aims at 1 : 1 agglutination and iconic representation of the contents. Inflection which is fused and opaque on the surface is considered to be the result of disrupting sound change. Following this view, phonological naturalness and morphological naturalness stand in permanent conflict with one another. Later revisions of these proposals tried to close the gap between theory and real morphological change but continued to assume that simplicity and uniformity of the system were the aim. Arguing against these approaches, 1 propose that a good morphological theory should be able to account for increases and reductions in morphological complexity, diversity and irregularity in its own terms. This can he achieved by using conceptions of sign-theory and language economy based on both the language system and its usage with its different and changing frequencies. These are crucial in deciding whether a word-stem and its inflection are to be more condensed and therefore more irregular (up to root inflection and suppletion) or more expanded and regular (up to agglutination or syntactic; chains). A theory which upholds these principles of economy and thus more closely reflects the realities of morphological change would to my mind - if we want to use the term at all - better deserve the epithet “natural”.