Chapter

Cladistic principles and linguistic reality: the case of West Germanic

Don Ringe

in Laws and Rules in Indo‐European

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199609925
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191741579 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199609925.003.0003
Cladistic principles and linguistic reality: the case of West Germanic

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Only shared innovations which are unlikely to have occurred independently can prove shared history; therefore languages are assigned to the same clade only if they share a ‘critical mass’ of significant innovations. By that criterion the West Germanic languages are a valid clade; PWGmc. was clearly a single language for generations. But we can demonstrate that there were significant dialect differences within PWGmc. well before it lost its linguistic unity. The most striking detail involves the singular indicative endings of the weak preterite, in which OHG does not agree with the other WGmc languages. Simple analogical changes, proposed in essence by Patrick Hollifield in 1980, can account for the OHG forms; but those changes can only have occurred before at least one sound change shared by all WGmc. dialects. Thus the ancestors of some dialects of OHG must already have been distinct well before PWGmc. ceased to be a single language.

Keywords: cladistics; gemination; relative chronology; subgrouping; uniformitarian principle; weak preterite (past); West Germanic

Chapter.  3763 words. 

Subjects: Historical and Diachronic Linguistics ; Grammar, Syntax and Morphology

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