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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 4: Early New High German


← 30 | 31 →Chapter 4

Early New High German (ENHG) is a direct descendant of Old and Middle High German (MHG), but unlike OHG and MHG, the status of ENHG is controversial. Jakob Grimm’s tripartite periodization was challenged by Wilhelm Scherer in 1878 with his proposal of a transitional period between MHG and New High German. External factors such as the the founding of the first German university at Prague (1348), the invention of the printing press (1436), among others, play a role in dating the beginning of ENHG. Internal criteria such as the ENHG Diphthongization and the ENHG Monophthongization are not found simultaneously in all dialects (Penzl 1984: 9–13, 49–68).

Penzl argues for the late 14th century as the beginning and circa 1730 as the end of ENHG. By the end of the 14th century, the written language reflects the medley of regional dialects (unlike in MHG); by the early 18th century, it has become standardized and dialectal characteristics are diminished (but, as he notes, this is not the case for the spoken language). (Penzl 1984:12–13) Rauch (1991) proposes a language-internal ← 31 | 32 →criterion for the end of the ENHG period, namely the increased use of the e-plural counter to the tendency toward apocope: “The startling fact is that for all genders, whether with or without genetic reflex, the apocopated -e makes a dramatic seventeenth century return to signal the plural” (Rauch 1991:372). This morphological shift thus marks the end of...

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