Article published in:Linguistic Theory and Empirical Evidence
Edited by Bob de Jonge and Yishai Tobin
[Studies in Functional and Structural Linguistics 64] 2011
► pp. 45–82
Semantic regularities of the so-called irregular Internal Vowel Alternation (IVA) Nominal (umlaut) and Verbal (ablaut) forms in Old and Modern English
How does one cope, systematically, with the apparent chaos of the modern world? This question was being asked in a variety of fields, and the replies which Saussure gives – that you cannot hope to attain an absolute or Godlike view of things but must choose a perspective, and that within this perspective objects are defined by their relations with one another…. (Culler 1976: XV) The Internal Vowel Alternation (IVA) system is considered to be “irregular” because it appears in a limited number of noun plurals (e.g. foot-feet) and Past Tense verb forms (e.g. give-gave) that have “survived” in Modern English from a more prevalent and productive process in Old English. Following a sign-oriented analysis of language, we postulate that the IVA constitutes a meta-system composed of signals (signifiants) that are connected to invariant meanings (signifiés) in a Saussurean sense. First, the IVA forms are systematically opposed phonologically and iconically: the IVA nominal forms undergo a fronting (originally called umlaut) process (“moving forward”/or increasing in the plural) while, conversely, the IVA verbal forms (originally called “strong” verbs with ablaut) undergo a backing process (“moving back in time” for the Past Tense). Secondly, the English IVA nominal and verbal forms are systematically motivated semantically and share Common Semantic Denominators (CSDs). All the nominal IVA forms have a marked distinctive semantic feature of “Semantic Integrality” (Tobin 1990, 1994/) and all the verbal IVA forms are marked by the distinctive semantic feature of “Result” (Tobin 1993a). Moreover, the various sub-classes of the more IVA nominal and verbal systems also share messages reflecting CSDs – and the more similar these IVA sub-classes are phonologically the closer their CSDs are semantically. Thus, our study connects the form-phonology and the meaning-semantics of the so-called irregular IVA forms and presents them as a full-fledged system of linguistic signs in English.
Published online: 09 June 2011