A case study in grammaticalized inflectional morphology
Origin and development of the Germanic weak preterite
This paper deals with one of the oldest and most controversial problems in the historical morphology of the Germanic branch of Indo-European: the origin and historical development of the so-called ‘weak preterite’. In Germanic, the weak preterite is the only means of forming the preterite tense of a derived verb. In spite of two hundred years of research into the weak preterite and a large number of hypotheses concerning its origin, it is not even securely established how the inflectional endings of this formation should be reconstructed for the common prehistory of the attested Germanic languages. Traditionally the inflectional endings of the weak preterite are conceived of as reflecting free inflectional forms of the verb “do”, only recently having been grammaticalized as inflectional morphology for derived verbs. But it has never been possible to identify the inflectional forms in question satisfactorily within the paradigm of “do”. This paper reconsiders the evidence of the Germanic daughter languages by taking into account West Germanic irregularities previously neglected or viewed as irrelevant. It is shown that the West Germanic evidence provides a key to understanding the origin and the later developments of the weak preterite inflectional endings.
Published online: 01 November 2010
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De Smet, Isabeau & Freek Van de Velde
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