英語史における顕著な潮流である「総合から分析へ」 (synthesis_to_analysis) に，古ノルド語との言語接触が大いに関わっているという説は，広く受け入れられている．古ノルド語との言語接触と，屈折の衰退との間には因果関係があるという議論である．この話題については，本ブログでも度々取り上げてきた（特に ##59,928,931 の記事を参照）．英語史上，最重要の話題とも言え，多くの英語史概説書で取り上げられているのだが，短い文章で要領よく解説したものがあまりない．英語史の専門的な視点からというよりは，むしろ少し離れた視点からの解説のほうが，細部に入り込まず，分かりやすいように思う．そこで，特に通時態に力点を置かない形態論の入門書を書いた Lieber (103) より，関連箇所を引用しよう．
Why did English lose all this inflection? There are probably two reasons. The first one has to do with the stress system of English: in Old English, unlike modern English, stress was typically on the first syllable of the word. Ends of words were less prominent, and therefore tended to be pronounced less distinctly than beginnings of words, so inflectional suffixes tended not to be emphasized. Over time this led to a weakening of the inflectional system. But this alone probably wouldn't have resulted in the nearly complete loss of inflectional marking that is the situation in present day English; after all, German --- a language closely related to English --- also shows stress on the initial syllables of words, and nevertheless has not lost most of its inflection over the centuries.
Some scholars attribute the loss of inflection to language contact in the northern parts of Britain. For some centuries during the Old English period, northern parts of Britain were occupied by the Danes, who were speakers of Old Norse. Old Norse is closely related to Old English, with a similar system of four cases, masculine, feminine, and neuter genders, and so on. The actual inflectional endings, however, were different, although the two languages shared a fair number of lexical stems. For example, the stem bōt meant 'remedy' in both languages, and the nominative singular in both languages was the same. But the nominative plural in Old English was bōta and in Old Norse bótaR. The form bóta happened to be the genitive plural in Old Norse. some scholars hypothesize that speakers of Old English and Old Norse could communicate with each other to some extent, but the inflectional endings caused confusion, and therefore came to be de-emphasized or dropped. One piece of evidence for this hypothesis is that inflection appears to have been lost much earlier in the northern parts of Britain where Old Norse speakers cohabited with Old English speakers, than in the southern parts of Britain, which were not exposed to Old Norse. Inflectional loss spread from north to south, until all parts of Britain were eventually equally poor in inflection (O'Neil 1980; Fennell 2001: 128--9)
同じ説を，できるだけ分かりやすく，かつ興味をそそるように解説を試みたのが，拙著『英語史で解きほぐす英語の誤解 --- 納得して英語を学ぶために』の第5章第4節「なぜ屈折が衰退したか」 (94--100) である．そこでは，屈折の衰退における古ノルド語の果たした役割のほかに，ノルマン征服後にフランス語が果たした役割にも踏み込んでいる．後者の役割は，因果関係としては，より間接的ではあるが，言語接触と言語史のダイナミックな関係，外面史と内面史の分かちがたい結びつきを理解するのにうってつけの話題である．これについては明日の記事で．
・ Lieber, Rochelle. Introducing Morphology. Cambridge: CUP, 2010.
・ O'Neil, Wayne. "The Evolution of the Germanic Inflectional Systems: A Study in the Causes of Language Change." Orbis 27 (1980): 248--86.
・ Fennell, Barbara A. A History of English: A Sociolinguistic Approach. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2001.
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