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Subject: Causes of Loss of Inflection
Question: I am very interested in the growth and decay of the process of inflection in language. As you know, Latin and ancient Greek were highly inflected languages, as were many other ancient Indo- European tongues (Old Slavonic, Sanskrit, etc). My question is: why is it that inflection decayed over time in nearly every one of these old languages? Does technological development somehow trigger inflectional decay?
Reply: Another factor in the loss of suffixes in the Scandinavian languages, English, and possibly French has to do with accentual changes. The accentual system includes stress and intonation. Early in the history of the Germanic languages, Proto-Germanic had a quantitative accent system, contrasting long and short syllables, a system inherited from Proto-Indo-European and illustrated clearly in Latin and Greek poetry. In Germanic, however, this system changed to a positional stress, essentially placing stress on the first syllable of a word. In time, and with a lot of other changes taking place, like those Prof. Pyatt and Prof. Lawler have talked about, the more weakly stressed final syllables weakened further, losing vowel and consonant contrasts and ultimately disappearing. French developed in part from Latin as spoken by Frankish speakers. Frankish was a Germanic language and so had undergone the Germanic stress shift. It is possible that in adopting Latin the Frankish speakers applied their stress patterns to Latin, resulting in the extreme lexical truncation French has undergone compared to other Romance languages that weren't adopted by Germanic speakers. I should note that while the Germanic stress shift and its effects are well attested, the notion of a Germanic substratum in French is rather more controversial.
Reply From: Herbert Frederic Stahlke      click here to access email
Date: 17-Jun-2013
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Causes of Loss of Inflection    Elizabeth J Pyatt     (17-Jun-2013)
  2. Re: Causes of Loss of Inflection    Geoffrey Richard Sampson     (18-Jun-2013)
  3. Re: Causes of Loss of Inflection    John M. Lawler     (17-Jun-2013)

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