Back to workshops

Workshop3: Synchrony and Diachrony of Inflectional Classes: Theoretical and Empirical Considerations



Petros Karatsareas (Bristol/Nicosia),,

Enrique L. Palancar (Paris/Surrey),,

Timothy Feist (Surrey),

Topic description:

Understanding inflectional classes is fundamental to morphological theory and morphological analysis because they represent a purely morphological phenomenon. In inflectional classes, lexemes fall into different classes for the purpose of inflection only, whose membership is unpredictable and arbitrary, i.e. inflectional allomorphy cannot be predicted by differences in phonological form, syntactic feature specification or semantic content.

Although linguists have long been aware of inflectional classes, they continue to pose a challenge for theories of morphology. See, for example, such recent works as Ackerman et al. (2009), Baerman (2012), Brown and Hippisley (2012), Finkel and Stump (2007) and Müller (2007) for proposals of how to deal with some of the formal aspects of inflectional classes. The challenge lies in the lack of functional motivation, which is hard to explain in an account of language structure that is based on the assumption that a linguistic system favours economy between form and function both synchronically and diachronically. Because of this, the synchronic occurrence of inflectional classes is often treated as if it were a dead weight of the linguistic system (Mayerthaller 1981; Wurzel 1986: 76).

Yet inflectional classes are widely found cross-linguistically and are remarkably resilient over time. In some cases, their number may even grow over time in a given language. We believe that these observations call for further investigation into the nature of this purely morphological phenomenon.

Against this backdrop, this workshop seeks to bring to the fore contributions that will advance our understanding of the synchronic and diachronic nature of inflectional class organization.

The workshop will host both theoretical and empirical contributions.

The contributions should address questions such as the following, drawing data both from European and lesser-studied languages and language families:

a)   the morphological typology of inflectional class systems

b)   the theoretical morphological analysis of inflectional class systems

c)    the possible relationships of inflectional class systems with other grammatical features (phonological, syntactic, semantic)

d)   the position of inflectional class features in the grammar

e)   the synchronic motivation and function of inflectional class systems

f)     the diachronic emergence and decay of inflectional class systems


Ackerman, F., J. P. Blevins & R. Malouf. 2009. Parts and wholes: Implicative patterns in inflectional paradigms. In James P. Blevins & Juliette Blevins (eds.), Analogy in Grammar: Form and Acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 54–82.

Baerman, M. 2012. Paradigmatic chaos in Nuer. Language 88: 467–494.

Brown, D. & A. Hippisley. 2012. Network Morphology: A Defaults-based Theory of Word Structure. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Finkel, R. & G. T. Stump. 2007. Principal parts and morphological typology. Morphology 17: 39–75.

Mayerthaler, W. 1981. Morphologische Natürlichkeit. Wiesbaden: Athenaeum.

Müller, G. 2007. Notes on paradigm economy. Morphology 17: 1–38.

Wurzel, W. U. 1986. Die wiederholte Klassifikation von Substantiven: Zur Entstehung von Deklinationsklassen. Zeitschrift für Phonetik, Sprachwissenschaft und Kommunikationsforschung 39(1): 76–96.