Naturalness theory

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The theory of naturalness (NT) takes the hypothesis that processes and states of languages ​​are more or less natural; Linked to this is the assumption that both the learning of the mother tongue and the processes of language change are shaped by a tendency in which more natural conditions prevail.

At the beginning of the theory of naturalness is the natural phonology developed by David Stampe (1969). Further subdisciplines have developed since then , including in the German-speaking area above all natural morphology, the principles of which were initially designed by Willi Mayerthaler as the theory of morphology .

An example

One of the basic assumptions of morphological naturalness is the idea that word forms at least partially symbolize the meaning of the words. Using the example of the plural of nouns in German: Since the plural contains more semantically than the singular, it is natural that the plural forms of the nouns are usually indicated by additional morphological features that the singular lacks. Usually this is a plural ending. In this sense, the plural of the word “child”, which is “child-he”, is natural, that of the word “girl”, which does not differ from the singular, but not. Phenomena that are natural in this sense are not marked at the same time ; less natural phenomena, on the other hand, are considered marked.

Aspects of the theory of naturalness

The NT assigns a "naturalness" to every linguistic sign, which is closely related to the markedness . By means of these instruments z. B. explains various aspects of grammaticalization and reanalysis .

The theory of naturalness (NT) is an (evaluative) metatheory and includes natural phonology (NP), natural morphology (NM), and natural morphonology, which derives its principles from the interaction of NP and NM, i.e. has a derived status, the natural syntax (NTS), as well as the natural morpho syntax (NTMS), which is fed by the interaction of NTS and NM, i.e. is derived analogously to morphonology. (Fragments of natural semantics (NSE) and natural text theory (NTEX) are also available).

The NT works with an open, inherently dynamic system concept (i.e. without the dichotomy " synchrony " vs. " diachrony "), it is clearly comparative-polylectal ( i.e. against mini-lects and interested in variants such as typology ) and differentiates between at least three levels of analysis: the Universal grammar (UG), that of the language type (TYP) and that of the L-specific system appropriateness. She regards functional explanations as legitimate. It differentiates between changes caused by internal grammar and changes caused by external grammar. The NT means that every category, every process, every technique and every dimension (in the sense of UNITYP) has to be evaluated in terms of naturalness theory. Ultimately, the NT is an (in) stability theory of natural languages. It is closely related to what Bailey calls developmental linguistics ; her closest relative is called UNITYP. In the field of NTS, there are similarities to generative syntax.

Axioms and hypotheses

The grammar is an open, complex system. This eo ipso rules out a dichotomy of the "synchrony vs. diachrony" variety. Instead, an inherently dynamic system concept is used. The technical expression of this is the theory of naturalness. In this sense, the theory of naturalness is a stability theory of linguistic structures and operations.

Principles of the theory of naturalness

  1. "natural change / local degradation or development pattern". "What is marked becomes (locally) less marked". The inverse is called "unnatural change".
  2. "typological pattern"; The existence of the tagged implies the existence of the less tagged.
  3. Conflicts of naturalness: Within complex systems it is generally not possible to optimize several networked parameters simultaneously. This means that not all open parameters of the basement can be fixed as unmarked as possible.
  4. General form of naturalness relations:> nat <A, B> "A is more natural than or as natural as B (relative to a presupposed naturalness scale)". The concept of markedness is a UG-related subcategory of the further concept of naturalness.
  5. About the logic of NAT relations: "> nat " is an antisymmetric relation that leads to a partially transitory order. The inverse "< nat " is presupposed.
  6. Universal grammar: The universal grammar (UG) as well as the (language) type are necessary stages of the linguistic layer structure or transition stages on the way to the single-language grammar G (L). In the sense of the theory of naturalness, the UG is not a grammar, but a genetic propensity for the acquisition of a single-language grammar.


  • Wolfgang U. Dressler, Willi Mayerthaler, Oswald Panagl, Wolfgang U. Wurzel: Leitmotifs in natural morphology. Edited by Wolfgang U. Dressler. John Benjamin, Amsterdam / New York 1987. ISBN 90-272-3009-9 .
  • Willi Mayerthaler, Günther Fliedl and Christian Winkler: Lexicon of naturalness- theoretical syntax and morphosyntax. (Stauffenburg Linguistics) Stauffenburg, Tübingen 1998.

Individual evidence

  1. D. Stampe: The acquisition of phonetic representations. In: Papers from the 5th Regional Meeting , Chicago Linguistic Society 1969, pp. 443-454.
  2. Willi Mayerthaler: Morphological naturalness. Academic Publishing Company Athenaion, Wiesbaden 1981. ISBN 3-7997-0717-4 .
  3. A differentiated presentation of the so-called degrees of iconicity of different plural forms in German can be found in: Wolfgang Ullrich Wurzel: Flexionsmorphologie und Naturlichkeit. A contribution to the formation of morphological theories. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1984, p. 59.

Web links

Wiktionary: Theory of naturalness  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations