Semantic differences between strong and weak verb forms in Dutch

Cognitive Linguistics 31 (3):393-416 (2020)
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Abstract

Dutch, like other Germanic languages, disposes of two strategies to express past tense: the strong inflection (e.g., rijden – reed ‘drive – drove’) and the weak inflection (spelen – speelde ‘play – played’). This distinction is for the most part lexically determined in that each verb occurs in one of the two inflections. Diachronically the system is in flux though, with the resilience of some verbs being mainly driven by frequency. Synchronically this might result in variable verbs (e.g., schuilen – schuilde/school ‘hide – hid’ or raden – raadde/ried ‘guess – guessed’). This diachronic (1300–2000) corpus study shows that this variation is not haphazard, but that semantic factors are at play. We see two such effects. First of all, synchronically, the variation is exapted in an iconic manner to express aspect: durative meanings tend to be expressed by longer verb forms and punctual meanings tend to be expressed by shorter verb forms. Secondly, we see that metaphorical meanings come to be associated within obsolescent inflectional forms, as predicted by Kuryłowicz’s “fourth law of analogy”.

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