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Inter-paradigm leveling in Hebrew verbal system


Paradigm leveling, whereby the number of surface allomorphs within a paradigm is reduced, is often accompanied by the loss of contrast between paradigms (analogy). Since these two are independent of each other, we distinguish between intra- and inter-paradigm leveling. In this paper, we study inter-paradigm leveling in the verb system of Hebrew, manifested by on-going change-oriented variation. In this context, we respond to two questions often addressed in studies on paradigm leveling: (i) Why do some paradigms interact in inter-paradigm leveling and others do not? (ii) What determines the direction of leveling? With regard to the first question, we argue that inter-paradigm leveling is triggered by similarity between whole paradigms, and propose a model that quantifies similarity and predicts the relative chance for two paradigms to undergo inter-paradigm leveling. With regard to the second question, we identify two types of directionality, uni- and bidirectional leveling, and show that the selection between these two is determined by the size of the inflectional classes. Class size determines the direction in unidirectional leveling (the larger is the winner) and class size ratio distinguishes between uni- and bidirectional leveling (the higher the ratio the greater the chance for unidirectional leveling).

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  1. 1.

    We refrain from using the term ‘analogy’ because it is not specific enough for our purpose, or as Bybee (1980:45) phrased this term “encompasses both too much and too little”. See Kraska-Szlenk (2007) and Blevins and Blevins (2009) for recent reviews of analogy in linguistics, and Itkonen (2005) for the wide spread use of analogy in linguistics and cognitive science.

  2. 2.

    The notation <X–…–Y>, where X and Y are forms in a paradigm, indicate a whole paradigm.

  3. 3.

    The term ‘paradigm’ partially overlaps with the term ‘lexeme’ (see definition in Aronoff and Fudeman 2011).

  4. 4.

    The ‘morpho-syntactic dimension’ is the combination of the morpho-syntactic features relevant to the paradigm. The features relevant for the present study are tense (past and future), number (singular and plural), gender (masculine and feminine), and person (1st, 2nd, and 3rd).

  5. 5.

    Some studies refer to 7 binyanim, counting the passive forms of B3 and B4.

  6. 6.

    Historically, the normative 1st person singular Future form (prefix ʔV-) has been replaced with the 3rd person singular form (prefix jV-). Although the change is on-going, we are using here the syncretic form.

  7. 7.

    Unless otherwise specified, the citation form is 3rd person masculine Past form with a gloss in the infinitive.

  8. 8.

    Tarmon and Uval (1998) list 64 distinct B1 sub-classes. However, since we consider here the past and future tenses only (ignoring the present, imperative, and infinitive), we end up with 45 distinct sub-classes.

  9. 9.

    Actually, Bolozky (2003) shows that the distinction between ʔ and ʕ has been a bit fragile already in Biblical Hebrew. This is evident by a few words, which are spelled with the letter corresponding to ʔ in some places and with the letter corresponding to ʕ in others.

  10. 10.

    A reviewer noted that a whole paradigm migration entails that for a given speaker all forms change at once. This is not entirely accurate since speakers may use the old paradigm in high-register contexts and the new one in casual contexts. Hyper-correction in high-register contexts make the situation even more complex. As long as there is variation, it is impossible to “prove” that the entire paradigm migrates; the only proof is in the end-state. We predict that the end state will consist of fewer sub-classes, but we have to wait several generations to prove it right.

  11. 11.

    For independent reasons, which are not relevant here, the normative 1st person singular Future form has been replaced with the 3rd person singular. In order to avoid further complexity, we do not use the ʔV- prefix of the normative 1st person singular form.

  12. 12.

    The model would work equally well if we counted similarities rather than dissimilarities. It is, however, easier to count dissimilarities because we measure distance from identity (Δ0).

  13. 13.

    The 7 verb paradigms are: javáʃ ‘to dry (intr.), jasád ‘to establish’, jaáts ‘to advise’, jakád ‘to blaze’, jarák ‘to spit’, jaráʃ ‘to inherit’.

  14. 14.

    Differences are significant in all cases except B1, where the number of members in the paradigms is probably too small to yield significance.

  15. 15.

    The 7 allomorphs consist of 4 in Past (geri-, gera, gert-, ger- / nisi-, nisa, nist-, nis-) and 3 in Future (agare, -egare, egar- / anase, -enase, enas-).

  16. 16.

    Stem allomorphs: pane-, pana, pant-, pan- / pale-, palʔ-.


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This paper benefited from comments and suggestions contributed by the participants of OCP 11, two anonymous reviewers, and the editor of Morphology. The usual disclaimers apply.

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Correspondence to Outi Bat-El.

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Zadok, G., Bat-El, O. Inter-paradigm leveling in Hebrew verbal system. Morphology 25, 271–297 (2015).

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  • Paradigm leveling
  • Paradigm migration
  • Analogy
  • Similarity
  • Frequency
  • Variation
  • Change
  • Hebrew verbs