Vol. 8 No. 2 (2024): Areal continuities and discontinuities emerge from parallel studies of inflection in diachrony

Louise Esher. Part of the Special Collection "Towards a comparative historical dialectology".  Longitudinal study of specific inflectional characteristics can reveal stable, long-standing contrasts between the linguistic systems of different areas within a dialect continuum. This paper reports on a series of studies which use historical textual attestations to date analogical innovations in preterite forms for different varieties of Occitan (southern Gallo-Romance), providing a firm empirical foundation for theoretical enquiry about inflectional analogy, its directionality, nature and motivations. Because the studies are strictly parallel, they also facilitate comparisons from a dialectological perspective, conferring the additional benefit of elucidating historical diatopic (dis)continuities.  Based on the substance, sequence and chronology of observed changes, at least four distinct groups of speech varieties can be identified, each showing strong internal consistency as well as stability over several centuries. One suite of unique developments occurs in Gascon varieties. Another, entirely separate, trajectory is found in a small cluster of Lengadocian varieties around Toulouse. Across a large group of varieties from the Lengadocian, Provençau and Aupenc areas, a third set of changes is shown to occur not only in the same sequence but at the same or similar historical periods, indicating that this is a development undergone near-simultaneously across much of the Occitan-speaking area. In northern Occitan varieties (Lemosin, Auvergnat), the same set of changes occurs in the same sequence, but at a later period, indicating either diffusion of changes from southern varieties, or independent parallel development. While some areas correspond to one or more of the traditional dialect divisions, others split existing dialect groups or span multiple dialect groups and subgroups.  These findings illustrate how investigation of genuinely morphological characteristics complements existing study of more familiar lexical and phonological characteristics, and also how long-standing dialect realities can emerge from the study of historical change.
Published: 2024-02-29

Special Collection: Towards a comparative historical dialectology