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"Buenos dias", "buenas noches" -- this was the first words in a foreign language I heard in my life, as a three-year old boy growing up in developing post-war Western Germany, where the first gastarbeiters had arrived from Spain. Fascinated by the strange sounds, I tried to get to know some more languages, the only opportunity being TV courses of English and French -- there was no foreign language education for pre-teen school children in Germany yet in those days. Read more



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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: No. Some situations are more stable than others, is all.

What happened to Latin is instructive. Latin's paradigms were very tightly organized,
with lots of cues to gender, case, and number on the nouns, for instance. But the cues
were all at the end of the word. And the ends of a word are where it wears away.

A few very common and natural sound changes occurred at the ends of words (loss of
long vowels and final /m/, for instance), and most of the distinctions made in the very
highly fused Latin paradigms were lost from perception, leaving syntactic constructions
to take up the slack.

This is an example of what's often called the "Grammaticalization Cycle":

http://www.umich.edu/~jlawler/Grammaticalization.pdf
Reply From: John M. Lawler      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    Herbert Frederic Stahlke     (17-Jun-2013)

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