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I've been using the two terms interchangeably. One of my assignments is asking me to identify cases of both suppletion and irregular inflection. I've been going over course notes/google to no avail--they seem like the same thing to me.

The only bit of difference is that one seems to have a more synchronic focus, and the other a more diachronic one...what's up with that?

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irregular inflection

a phonetically similar/same base

German die Herz 'heart' nom.sg. - des Herzens gen.sg., cf. das Ohr 'ear' nom.sg. - des Ohr(e)s gen.sg. (Wurzel 1990 :210)

English ox - oxen or mouse-mice (Bauer, Lieber and Plag 2013: 22)

suppletion

Phonetically different bases (historically these forms belonged to different lexemes)

German gut 'good'- besser 'better'

English go - went

  • I have a quick follow up question: is suppletion a form of irregular inflection? And are they both forms of allomorphy? – RECURSIVE FARTS Feb 6 '14 at 7:34
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    @Recursive: Sometimes it can be that way. The Latin verb fero, ferre, tuli, latus 'carry' has suppletive perfect and participial stems (the last two forms), but in fact they both come from the same root, though phonological changes have obscured their similarities. – jlawler Jun 10 '15 at 21:09
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You could have suppletion and a degree of regular inflection. For example, in French, the verb ALLER ('go') has suppletive stems but its inflectional marks are regular:

  • PRS.1PL : Nous all-ons <=> Nous chant-ons
  • FUT.1PL : Nous i-rons <=> Nous chante-rons

This is usually still described as irregular inflection because of the stem allomorphy.

Another classical distinction would be the difference between say ALLER again in French and BOIRE. BOIRE and ALLER both display stem allomorphy but in the case of BOIRE the differences in stems have evolved from the same phonological representation (allomorphy) whereas the stems in ALLER come from different lexical verbs with defectiveness reassembling to make a new one...

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