Analogy and sound change: A first thought…

Many of us have had some kind of Introduction to Historical Linguistics class where we discussed the role of analogy in morphological change. Remember classical 4 part analogy, where you have something like:

fox: foxes :: ox: x

fill in the blank for x with “oxes*”?

An interesting perspective I have been considering in my dissertation is the role of analogy as a productive process impacting sound change. Yep, sound change. Although the approach I will likely be taking will be different than the article I present below, I still think the article provides some interesting food for thought.

Wagner, Karl Heinz. 1969. ‘Analogical change’ reconsidered in the framework of generative phonology. Folia Linguistica, 3.3-4: 228–241.

Meanwhile, my own take on the subject is not ready for public consumption yet. But look for something regarding this in my dissertation when it’s finished.

There’s also a second look blog follow up, located here.


About daviddurian
I am a sociolinguist with a Ph D in Linguistics from The Ohio State University and an MA in Rhetoric and Professional Writing from Northern Illinois University. Currently, I work as the Lecturer at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, where I teach undergraduate courses in sociolinguistics, general linguistics, and first-year composition. I also work on research projects investigating variation and change in the vowel system of modern US English as it is spoken by Americans living in a variety of cities. At the moment, this includes Chicago, IL, Columbus, OH, and Eastern Pennsylvania.

4 Responses to Analogy and sound change: A first thought…

  1. Kyle Gorman says:

    i haven’t read the Wagner, will check out. I strongly suggest

    Aditi Lahiri and Bezalel E. Dresher. Diachronic and synchronic implications of declension shifts. The Linguistic Review, 3(2):141–163, 1983.

    on this subject. Describing “oxes” as analogy seems a bit weird to modern ears, since it’s regularization; it has been argued since the ’90s (Prasada and Pinker 1993, Albright and Hayes 2003, though I’m not a fan of either approach on methodological grounds) that it’s not just phonologically similar “foxes” that asserts the “analogical” force, but rather the fact that “add -z” is the regular rule. Now, “dived > dove” would seem to be an outcome unpredicted by at least some “regularist” approach to morphology, i.e., an approach in which regulars are exceptionless defaults that are bled by more specific rules. Clearly, learners care about phonological environments for inflectional rules, but a principled account is needed.

  2. daviddurian says:


    Thanks for the comments and the suggested reading. How about

    show: showed :: know: x

    x= knowed*

    work for ya’?

    • Daniel Ezra Johnson says:

      i think show:showed::know:knowed is very similar indeed to fox:foxes::ox:oxes.
      my personal opinion is that both are bad examples of analogy, or at least no better than mat:mats::sheep:sheeps. (i’m saying that the phonetic similarities and animal-semantics similarities introduced into these examples are irrelevant.)

      although analogy in historical linguistics is supposed to often or usually lead to regularization, generative linguists i think have to restrict the term analogy somewhat, at least not using it to describe the creation of the most banal regular form a la “wugs”.

      better to use, as examples of analogy, ones which involve the creation of either a very irregular or a somewhat irregular form. so “dove” is a good one, modeled on a pretty rare alternation.

      a lot of historical linguists act like every single form evolves independently – not sure that’s fair, once we realize the insight of the wug-test.

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