It has repeatedly been observed that there is a worldwide preference for suffixes over prefixes. In this article, we argue that universally dispreferred – or rare – structures can and do arise as the result of regular processes of language change, given the right background structures. Specifically, we show that Ancient Egyptian-Coptic undergoes a long-term diachronic macro-change from exhibiting mixed suffixing-prefixing to showing an overwhelming preference for prefixing. The empirical basis for this study is a comparison of ten typologically significant parameters in which prefixing or affixing is potentially at stake, based on Dryer’s (2013a) 969-language sample. With its extremely high prefixing preference, Coptic belongs to the rare 6% or so of languages that are predominantly prefixing. We argue that each of the micro-changes implicated in this macro-change are better understood in terms of changes at the level of individual constructions, rather than in terms of a broad structural “drift.” Crucially, there is nothing unusual about the actual processes of change themselves.
Bibliographical notePublisher Copyright:
© John Benjamins Publishing Company
- Ancient Egyptian-Coptic
- Diachronic typology
- Linear order
- Typological rara