From rarum to rarissimum: An unexpected zero person marker

Eitan Grossman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


This article addresses the problem of crosslinguistic rarity by mapping the types of diachronic factors that contribute to the rarity of a particular feature. It is proposed that a number of different diachronic factors may play a role, such as the rarity of source constructions, the rarity of particular types of change, the number of stages necessary for a particular feature to develop, and the number of pathways that can lead to a particular feature. This article looks at a rarissimum of person marking, namely, a zero-marked feminine 2nd singular person index in the Sahidic dialect of Coptic (Afroasiatic; Egypt). It is argued that such markers are rare because they presuppose rare input structures, and most processes of change would lead away from - rather than to - zero-marked 2sg. Furthermore, this study identifies a diachronic process in which a part of a morpheme is reinterpreted as a segmentable morpheme (in this case, a person index), thereby leading to the loss of a zero person marker. This is the converse of the well-known "Watkins' Law", in which a segmentable person marker is reinterpreted as part of a base.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
JournalLinguistic Typology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 by De Gruyter Mouton 2016.


  • Ancient Egyptian-Coptic
  • diachrony
  • inflection
  • markedness
  • paradigm
  • person
  • rara
  • syntax


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