Person and number syncretisms in Dutch

S. Aalberse, J. Don

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The aim of this paper is to make sense of the typologically quite exceptional pattern of person neutralization in the plural as we find it in Dutch verbal paradigms. We argue that Dutch, and most of its dialects, have a structural pattern of syncretism in their verbal paradigm: there are no person-distinctions in the plural. The main question of this paper is: where does this structural pattern of neutralization in Dutch come from, if we cannot explain it as a typologically wellattested pattern? As a first step, note that although the pattern is typologically quite odd, it conforms to another well-known generalization about paradigms: neutralization occurs in the marked half of the paradigm (see e.g. Nevins 2009). Further, we need to explain why this pattern occurs precisely in the Netherlands at this particular point in time. To this, we argue that this pattern arises as the result of a particular language acquisition strategy together with reduced evidence from the input for the fully inflected forms, probably as a result of dialect contact. This reduced evidence causes the third person, being the most frequent form, to dominate the other plural forms. In combination with limited paradigm splitting (Pinker, 1996), this explains the uniform plural that we find in most Dutch dialects.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)327-350
Number of pages24
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


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