Non-standard verb paradigms as test cases Muhiddinov Mirjalol

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Non-standard verb paradigms as test cases

Muhiddinov Mirjalol

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The following case studies of individual non-standard past tense verbs are intended as test cases, testing the hypothesis that non-standard verb paradigms can be considered more normal or more natural in the technical sense of Wurzel detailed above. The verbs have been chosen as illustrations of some very general trends that can be observed for English non- standard systems, rather than freak occurrences. Faced with the long history of English and the striking changes that the verb paradigms, in particular, have undergone, several logical possibilities are attested and will be investigated in more detail. These are in particular: (a) new non-standard weak verbs, (b) new non-standard strong verbs, and (c) different non-standard strong verbs.

New non-standard weak verbs

Some verbs that are still strong in the standard today have developed further in the non-standard system and changed conjugation class into the weak verb class (e.g. sellt, knowedvs. standard English (StE) sold, knew).

This development is usually employed to illustrate the ‘unnatural’ tendency of a codified standard to preserve a conservative stage of the language and to inhibit, or decelerate, the rate of natural change, in this case the change from strong to weak verbs. Mayerthaler’s general framework ( 1981, 1987) predicts that weak verbs are more natural than strong verbs, and that linguistic change should be in the direction of the weak verb class. My analysis of the English verbal system in this chapter also suggests that weak verbs are the ‘default’ verb class, and we have seen that almost all competing strong verb classes do in fact lose members to the weak verbs. For the – by now almost commonplace – idea that dialects simply exhibit more natural processes, see a fi rst explication for phonology in Kroch ( 1978).

New non-standard strong verbs

The reverse case, verbs that are weak in the standard but (newly) strong in non-standard systems, is little attested (though frequently quoted), at least for British English, and seems to be a relatively new development that is mainly found in American English (e.g. snuck, drugfor StE sneaked, dragged). Where it does occur, these new strong forms can only be formed according vowel change

Different non-standard strong verbs

Some verbs are strong in both the standard and non-standard systems, but have different strong forms. This constitutes the most interesting group, as they run counter to Mayerthaler’s universal prediction, and seem explicable in Wurzel’s framework only if we permit some modifications, taking into account class membership, etc. From an initial overview, it seems to be the case for (British) English that standard and non-standard systems are not so much different in their strong verb–weak verb distinction, but in individual paradigms. In other words, StE strong verbs are in most cases also strong in non-standard systems, but have different forms.Two importantsubregularities can be distinguished: (1) three-part paradigms of the standard that only have two parts in non-standard systems, and (2) two-part standard paradigms that only have one form in non-standard systems.

Two- instead of three-part paradigms.

Some three-part paradigms of the standard are simplified to two-part paradigms in non-standard systems (e.g. drink – drunk – drunkvs. StE drink – drank – drunk); this seems to be particularly frequent for verbs of a particular phonological shape and I have called this group Bybee verbs, as Joan Bybee has worked extensively on this phenomenon. The functional principle illustrated by these Bybee verbs is analogy – both on a concrete level, namely the phonological shape, the ‘prototypical past tense marker’ // that serves as the attractor to other similar verb paradigms – and more abstractly: by levelling the past tense–past participle distinction, these strong class 1verbs in effect become class 2verbs, conforming to the prototypical weak verb pattern and thus, abstractly, become more similar to the much bigger group of weak verbs, which also do not distinguish simple past and past participle (e.g. love – loved – loved). In other words, the structural principle PRES ≠ PAST= PPLis extended from the weak verbs and from a dominant pattern of strong verbs to this class of strong verbs, bringing it into line with one of the system-defining structural properties of English verbs.

Finally, doconstitutes a separate case, although it also belongs with these verb paradigms: it is a three-part paradigm in the standard (StE do – did – done) and thus belongs to verb class 1, which is levelled to a two-part- paradigm in non-standard systems, entering verb class 2with the expected levelling of past tense and past participle to do – done – done, again showing the pervasive power of the pattern PRES ≠ PAST= PPL. However, this levelling goes together with a functional split in those dialects that feature this development, in that do – did is preserved for the auxiliary, whereas levelling to do – done – done only occurs for main verb uses of do.This illustrates succinctly the phenomenon variously called re-functionalization, re- morphologization or exaptation of a morphological difference. There is no participle form for the auxiliary, as the auxiliary docan by definition not occur in any tense that would require the past participle.

One- instead of two-part paradigms

A change from two- to one-part paradigms is never found with class 2verbs (e.g. hold – held – held), but only in class 3. Both verb paradigms of this class are levelled to one form in non-standard systems, e.g. come – come – come(vs. StE come – came – come) and run – run – run(vs. StE run – ran – run).

In other words, (the complete) class 3switches, not to weak verbs, as would be predicted by Mayerthaler, but to the much less natural class 5. While the actual developments towards these simplified paradigms are characterized by historical coincidences, the strong stance they have today in non-standard paradigms is obviously not hindered by being morphologically non-iconic in almost all persons. Clearly here speaker economy wins out over hearer economy, as especially identical present and past tense forms are not very helpful, and therefore functionally less than optimal.


It is in roughly this order that exemplary strategies will be discussed in the following case studies. As a summary, the pervasive patterns of non- standard tense paradigms,,,
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