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Inheritance and Inflectional Morphology

Old High German, Latin, Early New High German, and Koine Greek


MaryEllen A. LeBlanc

Inheritance, which has its origins in the field of artificial intelligence, is a framework focusing on shared properties. When applied to inflectional morphology, it enables useful generalizations within and across paradigms. The inheritance tree format serves as an alternative to traditional paradigms and provides a visual representation of the structure of the language’s morphology. This mapping also enables cross-linguistic morphological comparison.
In this book, the nominal inflectional morphology of Old High German, Latin, Early New High German, and Koine Greek are analyzed using inheritance trees. Morphological data is drawn from parallel texts in each language; the trees may be used as a translation aid to readers of the source texts as an accompaniment to or substitute for traditional paradigms. The trees shed light on the structural similarities and differences among the four languages.
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Chapter 3: Latin


← 22 | 23 →Chapter 3

Latin nouns are divided into five stem classes. The first four developed from the inherited Proto-Indo-European (PIE) stem classes, while the fifth is an independent development. The third declension has the i-stems as a subclass. Classical Latin distinguishes seven cases: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, ablative, locative, and vocative. Among these seven cases, some case syncretism exists in all declensions. Unless specified on the subnodes, the following pairs of forms always exhibit leveling: nominative singular and vocative singular; locative singular and genitive singular; locative plural and ablative plural; dative plural and ablative plural; and neuter nominative and accusative, regardless of number. Due to its degree of syncretism, the neuter is the most underspecified gender in Latin.

The inheritance tree below displays the hierarchy of inflectional classes in Latin. As on the Old High German tree, each node below is associated with morphological properties. Latin, however, has a somewhat different structure. Here, the NOUN node is associated with ← 23 | 24 →several affixes, and nouns fall into two subgroups (I and II) that encompass classes with certain common inflections. Moreover, in OHG, there is usually a clear correlation between stem class (and thus, affixes) and gender, making two gender-based nodes necessary and salient. In Latin, on the other hand, stem class membership (which often may be determined by phonological shape of a lexical item) is usually not a good predictor of gender. Thus, gender will not be specified on nodes above the level of the...

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