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MORPHOLOGICAL CLASSIFICATION

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The most remarkable feature of OE nouns was their elaborate system of declensions, which was a sort of morphological classification. Every morphologi­cal class had either its own specific endings or a specific succession of markers.

In the first place, the morphological classification of OE nouns rested upon the most ancient (IE) grouping of nouns according to the stem-suffixes. Stem-suffixes could consist of vowels, of consonants, of sound sequences. Some groups of nouns had no stem-forming suffix or had a “zero-suffix”; they are usually termed “root-stems” and are grouped together with conso­nantal stems, as their roots ended in consonants, e. g. OE man, boc (NE man, book).

The loss of stem-suffixes as distinct component parts had led to the formation of different sets of grammatical endings. The merg­ing of the stem-suffix with the original grammatical ending and their phonetic weakening could result in the survival of the former stem-suffix in a new function, as a grammatical ending; thus u-stems had the inflection -u in some forms.

Sometimes both elements — the stem-suffix and the original end­ing — were shortened or even dropped in a-stems.

Another reason which accounts for the division of nouns into numerous declensions is their grouping according to gender. OE nouns distinguished three genders: Masc., Fem. and Neut. Sometimes a derivational suffix referred a noun to a certain gender and placed it into a certain semantic group. Alongside Masc. and Fem. nouns denoting males and females there were nouns with “unjustified” gender.

Division into genders was in a certain way connected with the division into stems, though there was no direct correspondence between them: some stems were represented by nouns of one particular gender, e. g. о-stems were always Fem., others embraced nouns of two or three genders.

Other reasons accounting for the division into declensions were structural and phonetic: monosyllabic nouns had certain peculiar­ities as compared to polysyllabic; monosyllables with a long root-syl­lable differed in some forms from nouns with a short syllable.


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