eesti teaduste
akadeemia kirjastus
SINCE 1965
Linguistica Uralica cover
Linguistica Uralica
ISSN 1736-7506 (Electronic)
ISSN 0868-4731 (Print)

Conjugation Classes in Estonian; 250-267

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James P. Blevins

The relation between the quantity system of Estonian and the complexity of its inflection classes is brought out clearly by word-based analyses in which the primary part-whole relation in the system holds between words and larger sets of word forms. The central role of prosodic contrasts reflects the fact that classes correlate with characteristic grade alternations, and are not cued by any obvious syntactic or semantic properties. The modern system is organized into three basic conjugations, which differ principally in the patterns that they exhibit in the Present and Infinitive series. First conjugation verbs are in the strong grade in the Present series and in the weak grade in the Infinitive series. Second conjugation verbs are weak in the Present series and strong in the Infinitive series, and third conjugation verbs are invariant throughout. Additional form variation that does not reinforce the basic stem-grade classes is either phonologically conditioned or lexically idiosyncratic. Although it is not always possible to determine class from a single form, class is identifiable from contrasts between many pairs of forms, including such minimal pairs as 2sg and 2pl imperatives, or present and past negatives. The systematic use of prosodic and morphological variation to cue 'purely morphological' classes and series in Estonian is of considerable general interest, as it not only supports a traditional view of inflection classes as genuine form classes but also indicates the 'morphological overhead' that is required to maintain an inflection class system with the complexity of the Estonian system.

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