Diachronic development of the weak feminine declension in German vernaculars
2022-04-13, 09:00–09:30 (Europe/Vienna), Room 5


The diachronic reorganization of the nominal inflection system in German can be characterized by two major tendencies: the strengthening of the number category, accompanied by the oftentimes simultaneous reduction of the category of case. Both developments are empirically well researched and have commonly been referred to as “Numerusprofilierung” and “Kasusnivellierung” (see Hotzenköcherle 1962; Nübling 2005, 2008; for further specification of the definition of “Numerusprofilierung” see Dammel/Gillmann 2014). A prime example of the interaction between both is the emergence of a new feminine class in Early New High German. This class is a merger of two productive feminine classes: the ō-stems and the n-stems. The n-stems adopted the singular paradigm of the ō-stems (unmarked cases) whereas the ō-stems followed the inflectional pattern of the n-stems in plural (n-suffix in all cases). This change leads to a reduction of caseforms as well as to an increased marking of number.
The generalization of the n-suffix is almost completed in the 15th century (see Ebert [u.a.] 1993: S. 179). The case leveling of the feminine n-stems begins in Middle High German but extends into the 18th century (see Pavlov 1995: S. 192). Both Early New High German and Middle High German refer to a multitude of different dialects, which are characterized by various local and regional distinctions. Therefore, at the same point in time, the stages of development of these processes may differ throughout the different German dialects.
This paper focuses on the development of the feminine n-stems and thus on the loss of case markers in the singular paradigm. It is part of a larger study, that deals with the different developments of the German nominal inflection system leading to the strengthening of the number category, based on data from historical corpora. At this point an exemplary examination should first provide insight concerning the diachronic development of the weak feminines in various German dialects and the timeline of the gradual discontinuation of case markers.
The Reference Corpus of Old German (REA) and the Reference Corpus of Middle High German (REM) offer the possibility for research in historical German morphology. On basis of REA the most frequent weak feminines were determined (1). Names like Maria and Martha were left out of further examination as well as ostara ‚Easter‘ which switched its gender to neuter in Middle High German and fortha ‘fear’ which became a singulare tantum and therefore has no plural.
The data shows that forms without a suffix in the oblique cases first appear around 1050, mostly in Bavarian (2) but also in Alemannic (3) and East Franconian (4). In general it can be observed that the loss of case markers is most widespread in Eastern Upper German varieties (Table 1).
Further investigations of the development of the weak feminine declension after 1350 will follow as soon as the Reference Corpus of Early New High German (REF) is released.


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Reference Corpus of Old German via https://korpling.german.hu-berlin.de/annis3/ddd
Reference Corpus of Middle High German via https://annis.linguistics.rub.de/annis/annis3/rem/