Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Origin, Functions, and Histories of Germanic Adjective Endings
by Evans, Elliott, Ph.D., Indiana University, 2019, 201; 13858651
Abstract (Summary)

The purpose of this dissertation is to provide an account for why Germanic languages inflect adjectives along the adjective declension choice (ADC)—i.e. as strong or weak—in addition to the typical parameters of gender, number, and case. Specifically, I examine the origin, functions, and histories of Germanic adjective endings.

The ADC, which developed in prehistoric times, could not have arisen from the Proto-Indo-European individualizing suffix as is typically assumed, since early runic examples directly contradict that account. Instead, geographically peripheral Swedish attest nominal incorporation to express definiteness, which finds corresponding examples in both Runic Germanic and other Indo-European languages and provides a more likely origin for the ADC.

The modern Germanic languages exhibit different functions for the ADC. In German it conveys syntactic nominal features that would otherwise remain unvalued and result in a crash. In Dutch and Norwegian, it conveys semantic definiteness features.

The function of the ADC in Proto-Germanic, as demonstrated through a comparison of early Germanic translations of Matthew’s Gospel, was syntactic, though distinct from German. In Proto-Germanic, weak adjectives were bound by determiners and strong adjectives were free and occupied the elsewhere environment. A series of developments happened in the history of German, attested from approximately 800 to 1300 CE. First, possessives and the indefinite article grammaticalized from adjectives into determiners. Second, many nominative inflections phonologically reduced to zero, making most predicate adjectives appear uninflected. Finally, strong attributive adjectives adopted the pronominal paradigm to replace the zero endings. In Norwegian, the system shifted from a syntactic one to a semantic one, with the two competing systems vacillating from approximately 1100 to 1500 CE. The newer semantic system, which eventually won out, aligned weak adjectives with definiteness instead of the older syntactic system in which weak adjectives were bound by a determiner.

By examining the ADC, I provide an account of a phenomenon that morphosyntactically identifies nearly all Germanic languages, while showing that significant variation in function and historical trajectory exists across the Germanic languages—both past and present.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Sprouse, Rex A.
Commitee: Gade, Kari E., Hall, Tracy A., Vance, Barbara S.
School: Indiana University
Department: Germanic Studies
School Location: United States -- Indiana
Source: DAI-A 80/08(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Linguistics, Language
Keywords: Adjective, Germanic, Morphosyntax, Noun phrase
Publication Number: 13858651
ISBN: 9781392074237
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