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UFSP Sprache und Raum

The impact of diachronic and diatopic interaction on morphology: a case study from Baltic


The main aim of the dissertation is to investigate the impact of areal factors on the development of the morphological systems of languages. The research is designed as an in-depth case-study of single language contact settings within the context of a well-studied language area.

The study will take the so-called Circum-Baltic Area as its point of departure and zoom in on two closely related languages of this region, Lithuanian and Latvian (Indo-European, Baltic), with a third language of a different phylum, Estonian (Uralic, Finnic), serving as a controlling factor. The three languages are all rich in morphology, but are traditionally assigned to two different morphological types, namely, “inflecting” on the one hand and “agglutinating” on the other. However, recent research has shown such labels to be less reliable and consistent than traditional research has thought them to be. An additional aim is thus the re-assessment of these differences in morphological structure in the light of current typologically informed work on morphological theory and its role in small-scale language contact and area formation.

Furthermore, the three languages are attested from the 16th century onwards, which allows for adding a historical perspective on documented diachrony as well.

The underlying research question can be stated as follows:

How can one untangle genetic and areal factors when investigating morphology, how do the latter shape the morphological make-up of a language?

While the study focuses on a sub-zone of a single linguistic area and is thus restricted in scope to some extent, it aims at providing a test case which can serve as a model for further research in the field of areal morphology. This entails contextualizing the findings in a broader picture of linguistic areas (e.g. large-scale areal drift).

PhD candidate

Florian Sommer


Wolfgang Behr, Balthasar Bickel, Michele Loporcaro, Paul Widmer


URPP Language and Space