The role of conditional entropy in determining the base for leveling in Old High German inflectional paradigm


  • Junyu Ruan the Ohio State University

Mots-clés :

leveling, German, paradigm, predictiveness, analogy


In the development from Old High German (OHG) to Modern High German (NHG), analogical changes occurred in the inflectional paradigm, in that the older past singular stem and past plural stem are leveled to a single past stem in the later language. However, different bases for leveling are attested in different inflectional classes. This paper takes an information-theoretic approach to the explanation of the multi-directional leveling found in the history of German. We assume that speakers use the most informative cell in the paradigm as the base for deriving other forms in the paradigm, and when analogical changes happen in the language, other forms in the paradigm might be leveled to the base but the base form would not be affected by leveling. Under this assumption, we studied the inflectional paradigms of verbs collected from an OHG corpus, and measured informativeness of a cell by its conditional entropy in predicting other cells in the paradigm. Results show that, in classes where the conditional entropy analysis makes strong predictions, the predictions are consistent with the attested historical changes, though other factors could also play a role in determining the base in classes where no strong predictions can be made based on informativeness.