How to become an adjective when you're not strong (enough)?

Emergence of the weak adjectival inflection in (North) Germanic

  • Alexander Pfaff ILOS/University of Oslo
Keywords: weak adjectival inflection, nominalization, phrasal reanalysis, diachronic syntax, Germanic


This article attempts to put a new spin on (the development of) weakly inflected adjectives, with a partic- ular focus on North Germanic, by recycling some traditional ideas. Point of departure is the observation that the Proto-Norse demonstrative hinn had ended up as a functional element in the extended adjectival projection in Old Norse – not as a definite article in the extended nominal projection (an otherwise well- known grammaticalization process). Following the old idea that weak inflection originally involved nominalization, it is argued that weak “adjectives” maintained their nominal status beyond Proto-Gemanic. Thus the weakening demonstrative originally occurs as a determiner in some nominal projection. At some stage prior to Old Norse, this constellation is reanalyzed at the phrasal level, from noun phrase to adjectival phrase, a process in which the demonstrative gets “trapped” inside the adjectival projection and is reanalyzed as adjectival article. This process termed phrasal reanalysis is operative at three levels, (i) lexical: N0 >> A0; (ii) phrasal: NP >> AP; (iii) functional: demonstrative >> adjectival article.