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The attrition of inflection

It is often assumed that intensive linguistic contact leads to a loss of inflection, which would result from the fact that inflectional morphology is difficult to learn for those acquiring a second language. A system without inflection would therefore be simpler, which is the reason why, in the history of Dutch, the disappearance of elements such as case and grammatical gender always appear to originate in urban areas. However, a problem with this line of thought is that inflection rarely, if ever, disappears suddenly or entirely. It generally occurs via slow, phonological erosion, during which there is a stage where the inflection is barely detectable phonologically, yet still operates at the morphological level. This is paradoxical, because this interim stage appears, in fact, to be more difficult to learn for those acquiring a second language. This project will investigate this paradox, assuming that a proper formalization of the concepts such as the “phonological exponentiation” of morphemes could shed more light on the topic and would focus on adjectival and verbal inflection (the expression of grammatical gender and person respectively).

Researcher: Marc van Oostendorp