Swimming against the typological tide or paddling along with language change? Dispreferred structures and diachronic biases in affix ordering

Eitan Grossman*, Stéphane Polis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations

Abstract

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.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)388-443
Number of pages56
JournalJournal of Historical Linguistics
Volume8
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© John Benjamins Publishing Company

Keywords

  • Affixation
  • Ancient Egyptian-Coptic
  • Diachronic typology
  • Linear order
  • Typological rara
  • Universals

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