How can single-phoneme suffixes evolve from chained agglutinating suffixes?

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xBlackHeartx
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How can single-phoneme suffixes evolve from chained agglutinating suffixes?

Postby xBlackHeartx » 2019-04-02, 2:20

Using the Romance languages as an example, I believe its commonly assumed that their personal endings evolved from agglutinating endings. By that I mean that long ago some language had suffixes for things like mood, tense, number and person, and over eons these merged together into sometimes singular phonemes.

Of course, a problem with this process is that as phonemes are dropped, distinctions are bound to disappear. For example, let's say a language had CV suffixes that marked tense, aspect, person, and number. Marking all four of these would thus require 8 phonemes. But over time these 8 are fused and reduced to just two or even one phoneme. Obviously, there's far more CVCVCVCV sequences possible than (C)V sequences in a language, regardless of the size of its phoneme inventory. Thus this means that over time some endings are bound to end up sounding identical. But if you look at say, the verb endings for Spanish, you don't see much of this going on. For the most part, every possible combination of mood, tense, person, and number has a suffix unique to it, though some are distinguished purely by the placement of stress in the word (which I surmise is something that developed to reduce ambiguity).

I was thinking of doing this to create fusional endings for a conlang, but of course I don't really see how I can reduce a 6-8 phoneme sequence into just 1 or 2 without some distinctions being lost. What I think would help is perhaps to see an actual example in a real language of chains of agglutinating endings morphing into fusional endings. I'm guessing there's no such thing for something like Proto-Indo-European, but perhaps there's an example from somewhere else in the world?

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Re: How can single-phoneme suffixes evolve from chained agglutinating suffixes?

Postby linguoboy » 2019-04-03, 16:12

xBlackHeartx wrote:Obviously, there's far more CVCVCVCV sequences possible than (C)V sequences in a language, regardless of the size of its phoneme inventory.

Only if you assume that the language develops no new phonemes as a consequence of the radical changes which would lead to the collapse of an eight-phoneme sequence into one or two phonemes. Historically, though, that's not what we see. Reconstructions of pre-Proto-Indo-European (which is believed to have been highly agglutinative) have as few as just two vowels. But no modern-day descendant has fewer than five vowels and Modern French has from 14 to 17.

xBlackHeartx wrote:Thus this means that over time some endings are bound to end up sounding identical. But if you look at say, the verb endings for Spanish, you don't see much of this going on. For the most part, every possible combination of mood, tense, person, and number has a suffix unique to it, though some are distinguished purely by the placement of stress in the word (which I surmise is something that developed to reduce ambiguity).

No, Spanish stress placement develops in a fairly straightforward way from syllable weight in Latin.

There are examples of polysemous suffixes in Spanish. -a can be PRS.IND.3sg, PRS.SJV.1sg, PRS.SJV.3sg, and IMP.2sg. (Also PRS.IND.2sg and PRS.SJV.2sg in varieties which debuccalise and elide /s/.)

xBlackHeartx wrote:I was thinking of doing this to create fusional endings for a conlang, but of course I don't really see how I can reduce a 6-8 phoneme sequence into just 1 or 2 without some distinctions being lost. What I think would help is perhaps to see an actual example in a real language of chains of agglutinating endings morphing into fusional endings. I'm guessing there's no such thing for something like Proto-Indo-European, but perhaps there's an example from somewhere else in the world?

Here's an example from PIE to Spanish:

PIE *steh₂-s-i gʰeh₁bʰ-eh₁-t-i
Proto-Italic: stāzi habet
Classical Latin: stāre habet
Proto-Romance: *stáre áβe(t)
Old Spanish: estar ha
Modern Spanish: estará

In this way, you go from ten phonemes (*s.i.gʰ.e.h₁.bʰ.e.h₁.t.i) to two (/ra/) to express the indicative future third-person singular.
"Richmond is a real scholar; Owen just learns languages because he can't bear not to know what other people are saying."--Margaret Lattimore on her two sons


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