Journal of Universal Language
Sejong University Language Research Institue

When Old Paradigms Die, New Paradigms are Born: On the Eternal Cycle of Morphological Change and its Importance for Language Typology

Gerd Jendraschek1
1Université de Toulouse Le Mirail

Copyright ⓒ 2016, Sejong University Language Research Institue. This is an Open-Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Published Online: Jan 01, 2017


All languages change all the time, and the changes concern different linguistic domains. The first half of the present article will focus on the verbal morphology of Basque, a language where synthetic and periphrastic verb forms co-exist. Diachronically, the periphrastic forms have replaced most of the synthetic forms. The comparison of northern and southern varieties leads to interesting conclusions. Apart from obvious lexical differences ,we can observe differences in the morphosyntax of the southern and northern standard, as speakers from the South use more morphological, synthetic forms, whereas northern speakers prefer analytical forms. Although the loss of synthetic forms has been observed for centuries, the dramatic loss of morphological complexity in the North seems to be a recent phenomenon. This morphological erosion is gradual. The study of synchronic and diachronic variation in Basque reveals that morphologically more complex forms and those representing marked categories are eliminated first, whereas shorter and more frequent forms are retained longest. In the second part of the paper,it will be shown that the universality ofthe phenomena described for Basque can be confirmed by data from other languages. In conclusion,the different data demonstrate how condensation of frequent forms and paradigmatic harmonization of isolated forms are responsible for the eternal cycle of morphological change.

Keywords: morphology; variation; language change; language typology