Abstract for the Speaker Series event of Mark Aronoff.
In the Light of Evolution
One of the fundamental principles of ecology is Gause’s law of competitive exclusion (Gause 1934): No two species with similar ecological niches can coexist in a stable equilibrium; when two species compete for exactly the same requirements, one will be slightly more efficient than the other and will reproduce at a higher rate; the fate of the less efficient species is local extinction. Gause’s law covers a variety of well-known types of phenomena in linguistic morphology, from the rivalry between affixes to inflectional classes to the elsewhere condition and allomorphy. This presentation will concentrate on two cases: Russian diminutive suffixes and the self-organization of the spelling of English suffixes over the millennium and more since the language was first written down. In both cases, an account rooted in the law of competitive exclusion provides an insightful explanation of the system.