Short verbs in Swiss German (abstract)

In the German section of this blog (which is far bigger than the English one, my apologies), I published a ten-part summary of my Master’s Thesis. It aims to give an overview of the thesis in neatly packed pieces for a public that is interested, but not deeply knowledgeable about linguistics.

Short verbs in the German context are verbs which are monosyllabic and have a stem ending in a long vowel – thus English see, do and be would qualify, but not get or come. Swiss German dialects have ten to fifteen of these verbs while written High German has merely two.

Swiss German short verbs raise several issues. For one, they form a group that shares peculiarities like altering vowels according to certain patterns, for example goo-t ‚(s/he) go-es‘ – gö-nd ‚(we/you/they) go‘ – es geng ‚it allegedly goes‘ (pattern o/ö/e). What does this say about morphology, considering that those rather complicated patterns apparently are not just legacy, but a desired outcome? Are there rules that defy regularity?

Apart from taking a morphological standpoint, one can also look at varieties (i.e. dialects) from a dialectological perspective, seeking to explain which forms are used where and how that came about.

Considering the verbs that were shortened, a driving force is frequency: The most frequent verbs (and forms of verbs) seem to „behave“ differently in a lot of languages – just think of ’s that stands for is and has.

Phonological disposition, frequency and time stuck out as the main factors that (can) lead to the emergence of irregular verbs. Inflection classes are involved as well, grouping verbs together and enabling them to share their irregularities, which in this context become the new rule.

As interest in Swiss-German verb formation is a rather off-mainstream topic for native English speakers who can’t motivate it with linguistic navel-gazing, I’ll leave it at this. If you have any questions about short verbs in Swiss German though, you’re very welcome to contact me!

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