An assessment of the fourth law of Kuryłowicz: does prototypicality of meaning affect language change?

Cognitive Linguistics 34 (2):261-296 (2023)
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Abstract

According to the (in)famous fourth law of Kuryłowicz (K4), when a morphological doublet arises in a language, the newer form becomes associated with the prototypical, basic meaning, while the old form takes a secondary meaning. This paper takes a first attempt at a more thorough inquiry of K4 to assess whether prototypicality of meaning has an effect on morphological change. Three studies on historical Dutch are taken on: -enversus -splurals, the apocope of schwa and the apocope of -de.The effects of prototypicality are analysed both on a token level (differences in meaning within lemmas) as well as on a type level (differences between lemmas). As proxies for prototypicality of meaning (psycho)linguistic predictors are used, such as concreteness, age of acquisition, chronology of meaning, meaning frequency and metaphor. Results show no clear effect of prototypicality on a token level, but they do suggest an effect on a type level: more concrete meanings tend to show up more often with the newer variant. Yet these results may also be ascribed to iconicity as the newer variants in these cases are the shorter ones and concrete meanings tend to be represented by shorter words than abstract ones.

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