complexity measures

bwald bwald at HUMnet.UCLA.EDU
Wed Jan 21 13:14:31 UTC 1998

----------------------------Original message----------------------------
Scott DeLancey asks:
For that matter, what purpose is served by English
strong verbs?  True, they seem to be slowly falling out of the
language, but pretty slowly ... the language has tolerated them
for a long time, and doesn't seem to be in a hurry to clean them
All I can suggest about English strong verbs is that their past tenses are
certainly more salient than the mono-consonantal form of the -ed suffix,
which is not audible (or even pronounced) in some contexts.  You might also
accept, for similar reasons, that their articulation is simpler, to the
extent that they avoid the creation of consonant clusters like /vd/ in
'saved' (cf. how 'haved' > 'had', 'maked' > 'made', etc. avoids that).  In
that sense, 'brought' requires less articulatory movement and is
perceptually more different from "bring" than "bringed".  More puzzling is
the maintenance of 'double marking', as in 'tell' vs. 'told', 'toll' should
be sufficient, winning according to my criteria, over 'telled'.  A paper by
Labov & Sankoff in Language a number of years ago presented evidence that
well after childhood speakers were still learning to stablize the morpheme
boundary in such words as 'tol(#)d', 'lef(#)t', etc.  The older speakers
were most likely to treat the final segment as an -ed suffix and
omit/delete/fail-to-pronounce it at a rate comparable to the regular past
in the same phonetic environment, e.g., 'call#d', 'stuff#d'.  Younger
speakers (still adult) more often treated it at the much higher rate of
deletion found for single morphemes, as in 'col*d*', 'drif*t*', etc.  To me
this seems like evidence that vowel shifting has some advantages over the
flimsy final consonant for morpheme signalling purposes.
Now, wouldn't be interesting if strong verbs, or their remnants, outlive
the -ed past?  I wouldn't put it 'past' them.

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