College of Arts and Sciences Poster Presentations


A Comparative Study of Germanic Morphological Erosion

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Student Presentation

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Faculty Sponsor

Ian Clayton


The Germanic language family has a unique place within the Indo-European language family because of the homogenous nature among all its branches with respect to phonological changes that have taken place over time. It is expected that the same would be true of the morphology as well. The extent of these changes can be seen throughout the entire Germanic branch, following the same course of changes, in ways that is not present within other language families as a whole. One of the interesting research subjects among linguists has been to conduct comparative studies among the Germanic languages in an attempt to illustrate how far-reaching this homogeneity reaches. English, as a West Germanic language, has undergone intense morphological erosion. This paper describes an ongoing project designed to compare the morphological developments among several closely-related Germanic languages, including Middle English, Old Frisian, and Old Norse. The study goals include (1) investigating whether the morphological erosion experienced by each of these languages has proceeded in largely the same directions, within the same parameters, (2) whether language contact is a factor: since Middle English has experienced greater degrees of language contact than Old Norse and Old Frisian, does it erode morphologically in ways similar to those two languages. Because of the massive amount of lexical borrowing into English from other languages, it has been theorized by some that modern English has become more of a creole language rather than staying within the Germanic language family. However, the patterns of morphological erosion, which are related to the grammar of the language, are still solely Germanic, and (3) the product of this research will be a paper discussing in what ways English follows the patterns that other Germanic languages follow, and if there are any ways that it does not. The similarities will show that English is still very much a Germanic language and, if there are any ways that it strays from the Germanic pattern, those differences are not enough to justify something as drastic as removing English from the Germanic language family.

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