So languages in contact will of course borrow vocabulary from each other. And languages in contact for a really long time might converge on a common sentence structure or other morphological typology - forming a Sprachbund.

But how often do they borrow the inflectional morphemes themselves from each other? Say we have a language, maybe Indo-European, that ends a lot of words in the accusative with -om. Is it unusual for other, non-IE languages in contact to see that and say, "huh, that's cool, I should end all my accusatives with -om as well"?

I have been lead to believe that that is uncommon. Is that true, and if so, why is it so uncommon? If languages are perfectly fine with borrowing grammatical concepts, why would they balk at borrowing the grammatical morphemes themselves that convey those concepts?

  • 2
    Are languages perfectly fine with borrowing grammatical concepts? Borrowing inflectional morphemes seems significantly more common than borrowing grammatical categories.
    – Draconis
    May 12, 2023 at 22:54
  • 1
    @Draconis I’d say languages are quite happy to borrow grammatical concepts, yes. Continuous aspects formed by be + present participle (or be + preposition + infinitive/verbal noun) were most likely borrowed from Celtic languages and spread into Germanic and Romance, for example; Japanese appears to have (at least in part) borrowed the concept of count-classifiers from Chinese; and as the question alludes to, the whole notion of sprachbünde largely boils down to languages borrowing grammatical concepts from each other. May 12, 2023 at 23:16
  • An excellent example is the English noun plural in -s; it's now general, but it was borrowed from the Norse settlements in the East and spread. Northern dialects used various Germanic plural forms; see the classic story by Caxton about the customer who wanted eyren and the server who only understood eggys.
    – jlawler
    May 16, 2023 at 15:31
  • 2
    @jlawler The English plural in -s was not borrowed from Norse. For one thing, Norse doesn’t have plurals in -s (intervocalic and final *-s became in Northwest Germanic, which would have been fully rhotacised to -r in at least some of the dialects present in England). The primary source of Modern English -s is the inherited Old English weak plural -as with syncope. The loss of other variants was possibly helped along by the ubiquity of -s in Norman French, but -as was already common enough to end up the sole victor on its own as well. May 16, 2023 at 20:58
  • 1
    @jlawler the Old Norse plural of egg is just egg (in the nominative), with no ending. Caxton's story is mostly about the replacement of ey with egg, with the fact that one received the weak double plural -ren, and the other the strong (masculine) plural -s being incidental, as both endings were themselves native English, as outlined by Janus
    – Tristan
    May 17, 2023 at 9:03


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.