The grammar and typology of plural noun inflection in varieties of German

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s10828-009-9030-z

Cite this article as:
Wiese, R. J Comp German Linguistics (2009) 12: 137. doi:10.1007/s10828-009-9030-z


This paper discusses varieties of German with respect to noun pluralisation, with a focus on the status of final plural schwa as in Fisch-e ‘fish, pl.’. By analysing the much-discussed plural morphology of Standard German by means of both prosodic as well as morphological principles, it is argued that final schwa in plural nouns of Standard German is not, as generally assumed, an inflectional suffix. As an alternative, an optimality-theoretic constraint-based analysis of final schwa in plurals leads to the proposal that this segment in noun plurals of Standard German arises as an inserted vowel, which is in turn the result of a specific constraint interaction. In the second part of this paper, related noun plurals are studied in a sample of diverse non-standard dialects of German. Morphological and prosodic constraints, through the well-known mechanism of differences in constraint-ranking in Optimality Theory, derive the (non-)appearance of word-final plural schwas in these dialects which are minimally different from Standard German and from each other. The constraints will include those which refer to properties of whole paradigms of word forms, not just to phonological properties of individual words. As an overall descriptive result, a micro-typology of plural formation in varieties of German emerges, and the prosodic phonology of German is demonstrated to play a crucial role in the formation of word forms.


Dialects German language Inflection Inflectional typology Optimality theory Variation 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut für Germanistische SprachwissenschaftPhilipps-Universität MarburgMarburgGermany

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