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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":
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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