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Icelandic and Faroese: A usage-based cognitive analysis of morphological change

Icelandic and Faroese: A usage-based cognitive analysis of morphological change

Title: Icelandic and Faroese: A usage-based cognitive analysis of morphological change
Author: Markússon, Jón Símon
Advisor: Þórhallur Eyþórsson
Date: 2024
Language: English
University/Institute: Háskóli Íslands
University of Iceland
School: Hugvísindasvið (HÍ)
School of Humanities (UI)
Department: Íslensku- og menningardeild (HÍ)
Faculty of Icelandic and Comparative Cultural Studies (UI)
ISBN: 978-9935-9736-4-1
Subject: Doktorsritgerðir; Hugræn málvísindi; Beygingarfræði; Orðmyndunarfræði; Analogy; Cognitive linguistics; Faroese; Icelandic; Inflection; Morphology; Usage-based linguistics; Íslenska; Færeyska
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/20.500.11815/4955

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The current thesis presents three published articles on inflectional change in Insular Nordic (Icelandic and Faroese). Papers I and II deal with change in Icelandic, while Paper III focuses on Faroese. The three articles are related through employment of the usage-based cognitive approach, which views the structure of grammar as emergent from prior linguistic experience, assuming a central role for language use as the mechanism of linguistic innovation and change. Usage-based cognitive studies typically invoke factors such as frequency and schematicity to account for the varying degrees of productivity that inflectional classes exhibit cross-linguistically. Such studies also make recourse to domain-general cognitive processes like analogy, categorisation, entrenchment, and statistical learning as determinants in the direction of change. Crucially, the usage-based cognitive approach posits rich memory for language. Thus, the cognitive prerequisites for storage and utility of linguistic experience as informative of usage choices are no different from those which inform our interactions with the wider world generally. Papers I and II account for the limited productivity of the low frequency Xó/æT-microclass which, before the addition of borrowed blók ‘wretch, non-entity’, contained five Icelandic feminine nouns in nominative/accusative plural -ur: bók ‘book’, bót ‘patch’, brók ‘trousers’, nót ‘fishing net’, and rót ‘root’ only, cf. plural bækur, bætur, brækur, nætur, rætur. Productivity is equated with the rate at which feminine grammatical gender is assigned to masculine nouns, while the motivation for such treatment is considered to be phonetic coherence with varyingly schematic feminine classes in plural -ur. Specifically, Paper I accounts for the different rates at which Icelandic masculine plural forms in with final -ur –– be that sequence an ending or part of the stem etymologically –– undergo reanalysis as feminine. Crucially, around 15% of nouns in Icelandic end in plural -ur: almost 92% of these are feminine, while all others are masculine. Further, syncretism in nominative/accusative plural is relatively rare among masculine nouns, but exceptionless among feminines. Also without exception, the relevant forms in plural -ur are always syncretic, irrespective of a noun’s gender. Interestingly, in the minority of cases, plurals such as masculine eigendur ‘owners’, fætur ‘feet’, and vetur ‘winters’ alternate with overtly feminine definite forms such as pl.def. eigendurnar, fæturnar, veturnar, cf. original and more frequent masc.nom.pl.def. eigendurnir, fæturnir, veturnir, masc.acc.pl.def. eigendurna, fæturna, veturna. Additionally, masculine forms in plural -ur sometimes occur with feminine modifiers and determiners. Paper I argues that, given the highly schematic nature of the full set of nouns in plural -ur, reanalysis as feminine might be expected at a rate proportionate to the frequency of corresponding masculine forms –– all other things being equal. However, based on corpus data for Icelandic, Paper I reports a mismatch in frequency between sets of doublets defined in terms of gender. Through employment of Bybee’s network model, with some innovative notational features, Paper I demonstrates that graded phonetic structure of a broader feminine subtype in plural -ur –– as it centres around the Xó/æT-microclass –– impacts the rate of reanalysis by means of a gang effect, which is viewed as a function of analogy, i.e. the process by which existing knowledge is extended to new contexts. In a similar vein, Paper II examines the limited productivity of the Icelandic Xó/æT-microclass. In the article, productivity is equated with the occasional inflection of feminine blók ‘nonentity’ and forms of neuter kók ‘CokeTM’ according to the morphophonological alternation exhibited by e.g. sg. bók ~ pl. bækur, rót ~ rætur, cf. blók ~ blækur, kók ~ kækur. These new plural forms are taken as evidence for the –– albeit highly limited –– productivity of the microclass. Indeed, doublet forms in both paradigms also pattern with inflection classes of higher type frequency, cf. pl. blókir, kókir, like fem. pl. myndir ‘pictures’, both of which prove more frequent than plural blækur and kækur. According to the usage-based cognitive approach to language, the impact of varyingly large and varyingly schematic classes is indeed expected to correlate with graded degrees of productivity. Some have implied contrastive motivation and, therefore also, distinct cognitive mechanisms for the deduction of plural blækur from sg. blók and of plural kækur from sg. kók. Specifically, the opinion has been expressed that plural kækur belies “real” language use because the form only occurs in humorous contexts. Plural blækur, on the other hand, is considered “real” language use. However, it is clear that both forms are based on the pattern of alternation exemplified by e.g. sg. bók ~ pl. bækur. Therefore, Paper II seeks to dispel the idea that different motivations for deduction are at play as a misunderstanding of analogy. This objective is achieved through reference to schematicity, semantics, and pragmatics, as well as to Icelandic corpus data. By this means, Paper II demonstrates that new membership in the microclass is graded as a function of limited productivity. Finally, Paper II shows that innovative kækur and blækur are deduced by identical means, i.e. via analogy. Paper III deals with analogical change in Faroese, with specific focus on levelling of the intricate vowel alternations which characterised the inflection of Old West Nordic u-stems. Crucially, levelling is defined as the extension of a stem variant to a cell in which it did not occur previously, as opposed to one form “changing into” another. The Faroese descendants of Old West Nordic u-stems have undergone significant levelling, as is evident from the paradigm of Far. vøllur ‘field, grassy ledge on a rock face, (sports) pitch, airport’: all cells of the paradigm contain the variant vøll- (< OWN nom.sg., acc.sg., acc.pl., dat.pl. vǫll-), while some also contain vall- (OWN gen.sg., gen.pl. vall-). The variant OWN (dat.sg., nom.pl.) vell- has been completely eradicated (see Markússon 2022b). Conversely, the paradigm of Far. fjørður ‘fjord, inlet/bay, sound/strait’ has retained all stem variants, cf. Far. fjørð- (< OWN nom.sg., acc.sg., acc.pl., dat.pl. fjǫrð-), firð- (< OWN dat.sg., nom.pl. firð-), fjarð- (< OWN gen.sg., gen.pl. fjarð-). Further, it has extended those variants to other cells of the paradigm, cf. innovative dat.sg. fjørði, which exists beside older firði, innovative nom./acc.pl. fjørðir and fjarðir beside older firðir, and innovative dat.pl. fjarðum and firðum, which live alongside older fjørðum. The basic forms of paradigms, i.e. those from which new inflectional forms take their stem, and the factors that establish them have typically been defined according to either of two opposing theoretical approaches. The first attributes basic status on account of so-called ‘markedness’, i.e. the perspective that new forms in a paradigm are likely to be based on existing ones that express semantically “natural” and/or “neutral” values, such as singular and nominative. In other words, such “unmarked” forms serve as basic. The opposing approach posits frequency as the determining factor. Thus, levelling proceeds from the most frequent member(s) of the paradigm, due to a correlation between frequency of use and its impact on the strength of representation in memory. In other words: frequent forms are better represented than less frequent forms and more readily accessible in moments of memory lapse. Therefore, frequent forms are most likely to be used as a base when the “correct” form evades the language user. Paper III utilises Faroese corpus data in order to demonstrate that the basic forms of Far. vøllur and fjørður –– both of which refer to topographical entities and occur as complex place names –– are established on the basis of frequency, rather than semantics. Paper III argues that due to the overall low frequency of forms of Far. vøllur, the most frequent stem variant, i.e. vøll-, was extended to the whole paradigm, while vell- was easily forgotten. Conversely, the high token frequency of dat.sg. firði meant that it was well represented in memory and, therefore, easily accessible in moments of temporary memory lapse. Paper III argues that this property of dat.sg. firði triggered spread of the stem variant firð- to the dative plural through the context [í/á/úr + dat.], where younger dat.pl. firðum takes older fjørðum over in frequency. Further, presence of the stem variant firð- in all plural cells of the paradigm, cf. also nom./acc.pl. firðir, facilitated association of the form firð- with the meaning plural. Subsequently, an attempt was made to level the singular portion of the paradigm in favour of the variant fjørð- to contrive the formal opposition sg. fjørð- : pl. firð-. However, the new form never took over the role of older dat.sg. firði on account of the high token frequency of the latter. The current thesis demonstrates that factors such as frequency and schematicity impact choices made in on-line language use as a function of stored experience with language. Further, if the course of language change correlates with the distributional properties of these factors in the acquired grammar, it follows logically that the usage events which incrementally facilitate change reflect the linguistic experience whence the grammar emerges. Moreover, the fact that language change is a function of language use demonstrates that the structure of grammar is an emergent and dynamic system, rather than one whose adaptive properties are constrained by genetic endowment and ontogeny. Therefore, in light of the conclusions drawn in Papers I–III, the current thesis also showcases the applicability of usage-based cognitive theory as a means to account for the direction of morphological change.

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