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Detail of contribution

Auteur: Eugen HILL

Language contact and the inflectional morphology of genetically related languages

Abstract/Résumé: Traditionally our major tool for dealing with similarities as well as differences in the inflection of related languages has been comparative reconstruction. When reconstructing the inflection of a proto-language, we identify the original structures preserved in the daughter-languages and try to uncover the phonological and morphological innovations. By this procedure we usually receive a comprehensive picture of language development. However, this picture is necessarily incomplete since it does not provide information on two points. First, the reconstruction of a proto-language cannot explain those similarities between the daughter-languages that, for whatever reason, cannot be inherited. Second, even the most complete reconstruction of a proto-language does not explain why the daughter-languages differ from one another not merely in their phonology but also in their morphological patterns. Deviations from the original inflection hardly emerge for no reason. Sometimes the developments after the break-up of a parent-language might be understood as reactions to asymmetric patterns in the inherited inflection, but this is not always probable. The aim of my presentation is to demonstrate that language contact is a major factor in shaping inflectional properties of related languages. I will investigate the explanatory potential of two particularly promising mechanisms of copying inflectional patterns from one language into another. The first mechanism is the contact-induced reanalysis of inflectional forms with subsequent rearrangement of morphological units in the recipient language. The explanatory potential of this concept will be explored by reference to two closely related languages, Old Prussian and Lithuanian. I will demonstrate that several historically unexpected features of Old Prussian emerged by a recent reanalysis due to the influence of Lithuanian. The second mechanism is the contact-induced morphologisation of syntactic patterns. A particularly instructing instance of this development are the possessive inflections of nouns in languages of the Yenissean family (Southern Siberia). I will show that inflectionally encoded possession may have emerged by independent morphologisations in the individual Yenisseian languages due to the influence of Uralic and Turk spoken in the region. The contact-induced reanalysis and the contact-induced morphologisation might be responsible for a substancial part of non-inherited similarities in the inflection of related languages. At the same time, these mechanisms also have the potential of explaining why inherited features in their inflection may be partly replaced or modified in the way we observe.