, Volume 23, Issue 2, pp 179–200 | Cite as

On Latin nominal inflection: the form-function relationship

  • Bernd WieseEmail author


The present paper provides a new approach to the form-function relation in Latin declension. First, inflections are discussed from a functional point of view with special consideration to questions of syncretism. A case hierarchy is justified for Latin that conforms to general observations on case systems. The analysis leads to a markedness scale that provides a ranking of case-number-combinations from unmarked to most marked. Systematic syncretism always applies to contiguous sections of the case-number-scale (‘syncretism fields’). Second, inflections are analysed from a formal point of view taking into account partial identities and differences among noun endings. Theme vowels being factored out, endings are classified on the basis of their make-up, e.g., as sigmatic endings; as containing desinential (non-thematic) vowels; as containing long vowels; and so on. The analysis leads to a view of endings as involving more basic elements or ‘markers’. Endings of the various declensions instantiate a small number of types, and these can be put into a ranked order (a formal scale) that applies transparadigmatically. Third, the relationship between the independently substantiated functional and formal hierarchies is examined. In any declension, the form-function-relationship is established by aligning the relevant formal and functional scales (or ‘sequences’). Some types of endings are in one-to-one correspondence with bundles of morphosyntactic properties as they should be according to a classical morphemic approach, but others are not. Nevertheless, endings can be assigned a uniform role if the form-function-relationship is understood to be based on an alignment of formal and functional sequences. A diagrammatical form-function relationship is revealed that could not be captured in classical or refined morphemic approaches.


Latin Inflectional morphology Case Syncretism 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut für Deutsche Sprache (IDS)MannheimGermany

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