Colloquium: Rapid drastic shift of lexical type: From verb-based to noun-based in late Proto-Slavic

October 8, 3:30-5pm, Cobb 201
Johanna Nichols, University of California, Berkeley

The prototypical lexical root in Indo-European is essentially verbal, and the derivational morphology is well equipped to derive nouns from verbs but does much less of the reverse. Late IE nouns denoting semantically basic concepts are often deverbal. In most daughter languages it is the other way around: most often nouns are synchronically basic, verbs derived (though etymological evidence for the IE derivation of synchronically simple nouns is often still retrievable). In the Slavic branch the shift of lexical type took place recently enough that the process is partly still in process in the first written documents. This paper traces some of the changes in compounding, conversion, formation of motion verbs, and reanalysis of formerly deverbal derivatives as denominal. Once the difference of noun-based vs. verb-based lexicons is understood, these derivational processes can be seen as evidence of type shifts. The difference in types is important to historical linguistics; among other things it appears to determine the relative diachronic stability of nouns and verbs. It also raises questions about the amount of material required for adequate documentation.