Inflectional Economy and Politeness
Morphologyinternal and morphologyexternal factors in the loss of second person marking in Dutch
The second person singular pronoun in Middle Dutch was du. The pronoun du combined with finite verbs ending in the suffix –s. Both the pronoun du and the suffix –s are lost in Modern Dutch. The loss of the pronoun and the suffix is related: there is no variant of Dutch that has a suffix –s that does not also have the pronoun du or vice versa. The question is how we should understand this combined loss of the pronoun and the suffix.
The central claim in this book is that the decrease in the use of the pronoun du (combining with the suffix –s) is driven by politeness. The plural and polite pronoun gi (combining with the suffix –t) came to be used in an increasing number of contexts. Although we can understand the decrease of the pronoun du and the suffix –s as the result of politeness, the loss of both the pronoun and the suffix is driven by inflectional economy. The suffix that the pronoun gi combined with was more economical than the suffix that du combined with. This claim is supported by data on synchronic and diachronic variation in Dutch.
This study is of interest to scholars working in the field of historical linguistics, corpus linguistics, pragmatics and inflectional morphology.