PhD Alumni

Anne Lerche (geb. Krause) Freiburg

Morphological change in German: Formation of imperatives

ErstbetreuerProf. Dr. Peter Auer
ZweitbetreuerProf. Dr. Dr. h. c. Christian Mair

There are a number of German strong verbs which exhibit a stem vowel change from the infinitive -e- to -i- in the forms of the second and third person singular in the present tense and the imperative singular. This dissertation project is designed to investigate the replacement of the i-stem imperative singular by an imperative form with an e-stem, e.g. sterben ‘to die’: stirb! > sterb(e)!; geben ‘to give’: gib! > geb(e)!

It is hypothesised that this replacement is an instance of analogical levelling towards regular verb conjugation without stem vowel change. Along the lines of former usage-based analyses of language change, type and token frequencies of verbs are considered to be an important factor in explaining why some verbs change earlier and faster than others and which direction the change takes. Among others, type and token frequency variables include
- token frequencies of the verb lemmas potentially affected by the change (i.e. the strong verbs with vowel gradation),
- token frequencies of the verb stems potentially affected by the change (e.g. (auf)geben ‘to give (up)’),
- the type frequency of verb conjugation paradigms,
- intraparadigmatic frequencies of i- and e-stem and the imperative singular (how many different forms exist in the paradigm?, how often do they occur?, is the imperative singular “overrepresented” in some verbs?).

For the purpose of answering these questions, a web-based corpus has been compiled, containing natural language material amounting to 7m tokens. Mixed-effects regression models have been fitted to the data in order to i) evaluate the explanatory potential of the selected frequency (and other) measures with regard to the form of the imperatives in question, and ii) attest the present stage of the development. i) It has been found that the strongest predictors for the stem vowel in the imperative singular of the strong verbs with vowel gradation are verb stem token frequency and recency. Thus, lower frequency verbs succumb to analogical levelling, while high frequency verbs resist replacement; it does not matter in this regard whether the verb is a simplex (geben), prefixed (vergeben) or particle verb (aufgeben). “Recency” is to be understood as the previous occurrence of an imperative singular form. Once an analogical imperative singular form has been used, the probability increases that the following imperative singular variant is likewise formed in analogy to the regular verb paradigm, e.g. gebe followed by nehme. ii) The phenomenon under investigation must be referred to as a “change-in-progress” or “ongoing change”: an increase in the use of the analogical imperative variants was indentified in the corpus study (time span: 2001-2013); nevertheless, the replacement of the established i-stem imperative forms is far from complete. In a separate corpus study, type frequency is once again shown to be one of the key components of the productivity of verb conjugation paradigms and, hence, explains the direction of the analogical change.

Converging evidence from experimental testing complements the survey in order to make qualified statements about the awareness of native speakers of the change under investigation. In a “self-paced reading with recall” design, response latencies and recall accuracies have been collected for the two imperative stems presented in verb stems of different token frequency. The analysis of data from two age groups of subjects from different regions in Germany reveals interesting surprisal patterns, interpreted as evidence for frequency effects on the entrenchment of forms.


Curriculum Vitae

since 10/2015
Research Associate, Department of British Studies,
Leipzig University


10/2012 - 05/2017
PhD student, Research Training Group 1624 DFG "Frequency Effects in Language",
University of Freiburg

Master of Arts in British Studies (Anglistik), Leipzig University

Bachelor of Arts in British Studies (Anglistik), Leipzig University


"Frequency Effects in Production and Perception of a Morphological Change-in-Progress in German." ICLC 2015 (International Cognitive Linguistics Conference). Northumbria University, Newcastle (UK), 20-26 July 2015.

"Frequency and recency effects in German morphological change-in-progress." CL 2015 (Corpus Linguistics Conference). Lancaster University, 20-25 July 2015.

"Language change in video game instructions? - Testing Frequency Effects in Corpus and Experimental Data." PALC 2014 (Practical Applications of Language Corpora). University of Lodz, 20-22 November 2014.

"What counts? Frequency Effects in German morphological change." GURT 2014 (Georgetown University Round Table: Usage-Based Approaches to Language, Language Learning and Multilingualism). Georgetown University, Washington D.C., 14-16 March 2014.


Co-organiser, with Evghenia Goltsev, Olga Iljina, and Katja Roller, of the international workshop "Attitudes to Language Change, Variation and (Non-native) Speakers" at the Reasearch Training Group DFG 1624 "Frequency Effects in Language", 11-12 April 2013, invited speakers: Peter Garrett (Cardiff University), Adriana Hanulíková (University of Freiburg), Marion Krause (University of Hamburg)


Introduction to Statistics in R, introductory seminar,
Research Training Group 1624 DFG "Frequency Effects in Language",
University of Freiburg

10/2015 - 02/2016
Written Academic Discourse, undergraduate seminar,
Department of British Studies, Leipzig University

Introduction to Statistics in R, introductory seminar
Department of British Studies, Leipzig University

Working With Language Corpora, introductory seminar
in cooperation with Jakob Neels (Leipzig University)
Department of British Studies, Leipzig University

Introduction to Linguistics, under-graduate seminar,
German Department, University of Freiburg

Research Assistant, Department of British Studies, Leipzig University,
Prof. Dr. Isabelle Buchstaller, Professor for Varieties of English

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Current research

DIS-AGREE (Grant: The European Campus „Seed Money“)

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