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Contrastive distribution

In classical WP terms, series are form classes, defined in terms of patterns of mutual implication rather than in terms of common morphosyntactic features or shared derivations. The same type of analogical deduction that allows speakers to predict new forms of a paradigm from an encountered form applies within a larger inflectional series. The predictive value of series is further enhanced by the fact that members of different series often occur in distributionally-matched ‘minimal pairs’. In Russian, the contrast between nearly any pair of forms from the present and past series identifies class. The contrast between the present and past indicative forms is particularly useful, given that contrasting pairs have overlapping distributions. For example, a syntactic context that contains a 3pl nominative subject defines a ‘diagnostic frame’ since any pair of past and present indicative forms of a given verb that can occur in construction with this subject identify the class of the verb.

The more intricate an inflection class system is, the more useful these types of diagnostic pairs and contexts are. Estonian conjugations contain at least three minimally contrasting pairs that identify class. The system is organized along

Table 4.16 Conjugational classes and series in Estonian (Viks 1992:52)

I ('Weakening')

II ('Strengthening')

III ('Invariant')

Infinitive

oppida

hupata

elada

‘tarbida

Supine

oppima

huppama

elama

‘tarbima

Pres Indic (Isg)

opin

huppan

elan

‘tarbin

‘to study’

‘to jump’

‘to live’

‘to consume’

Table 4.17 Members of conjugational series in Estonian (Viks 1992; Blevins 2007)

Series

Diagnostic minimal pairs

Additional forms

Infinitive

Infinitive

2pl Imp —

Past Prtl

(Gerund, Jussive)

Present

2sg Imp Pres Indic

(Pres Cond)

Supine

Supine

— Past Indic

Pres Prtl

(Evidential)

two dimensions into three conjugations and four series. The conjugations are distinguished by characteristic stem alternations across the series, rather than by patterns of affixal variation. The first (or ‘weakening’) conjugation is based on a strong stem in the infinitive and supine series and a weak stem in the present series. The second (or ‘strengthening’) conjugation is weak in the infinitive series and strong in the present and supine series. The ‘third’ conjugation contains nonalternating verbs. These verbs maybe based either on a ‘short’ (Qi) stem, as in the case of elama, or on an overlong (Q3) stem, as in the case of tarbida.24 It is the fact that the stems of overlong third conjugation verbs are of the same Q3 length as the strong stems of alternating verbs that entails that a Q3 form (or a pair of Q3 forms) is not diagnostic of class. The stem patterns that define each conjugation are exhibited in Table 4.16.

The three alternating series are represented by the infinitive, present indicative and supine forms in Table 4.16.[1] [2] Further members of each series are listed in Table 4.17, aligned to highlight matched pairs. The contrastive value of these pairs derives from the fact that stem grade is constant throughout a series. Hence any member of a series identifies the grade of that series and each pair exhibits a grade contrast that at least partially identifies class.

Three salient contrasts are set out in Table 4.18. The contrast between 2sg and 2pl imperatives is perfectly diagnostic. If the 2sg form is weak and the 2pl form is strong, the verb belongs to the first conjugation. If the 2sg form is strong and the 2pl form is weak, the verb belongs to the second conjugation. If both are based on a single stem, the verb belongs to the third conjugation.

The other constrasts are diagnostic except when both members of the pair are Q3. The contrast between present and past indicatives is reminiscent of but less informative than the alternation in Russian. If the present indicative

Table 4.18 Diagnostic conjugation contrasts in Estonian (Viks 1992; Blevins 2007)

Imperative

Indicative

Infinitival

2sg

2pl

Pres

Past

Infinitive

Supine

I

opi

oppige

opin

oppisin

oppida

oppima

II

huppa

hupake

huppan

huppasin

hupata

huppama

III

ela

elage

elan

elasin

elada

elama

III

‘tarbi

‘tarbige

‘tarbin

‘tarbisin

‘tarbida

‘tarbima

is weak and the past is strong, the verb belongs to the first conjugation. If neither form is Q3, the verb belongs to the third conjugation. If both forms are Q3, the verb may belong either to the second or third conjugation. The final, infinitival, pattern involves forms with complementary rather than overlapping distribution. Infinitival complements in Estonian take one of two forms, the supine (or ma-infinitive) and the infinitive (or da-infinitive). Although the supine has more of a default status, both forms can be governed, and speakers must know both. If the infinitive of a verb is weak and the supine is strong, the verb belongs to the second declension. If neither form is Q3, the verb belongs to the third declension. Ambiguity arises again if both forms are overlong (Q3), since the verb may belong either to the first or the third conjugation.

Participles from different series and other pairs of forms may also be of use in identifying class. But a consideration of the pairs in Table 4.18 should suffice to show that the lack of morphosyntactic coherence in series is not noise but can be of diagnostic value. The 2sg and 2pl Imperatives have more in common with each other morphosyntactically than they do with members of their inflectional series, and the same is even more true of the infinitive and supine. In both cases, common morphosyntactic properties will determine similar syntagmatic distributions. Yet because the members of these pairs belong to distinct series, the distributional patterns will not be associated with series (or subseries) but will define diagnostic frames in which series-level stem alternations can identify the class of a verb. This diagnostic pattern depends on morphosyntactically similar forms being distributed across series in Estonian, and would be sacrificed if the series were morphosyntactically coherent.

  • [1] Since the non-alternating Q3 is not marked othographically in the forms of tarbida, it isconventional to mark length by a preceding open quotation mark.
  • [2] The fourth, Impersonal, series, is always weak in the first and second conjugation.
 
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