One rule, two frequency effects

  • Marjoleine Sloos


The low-mid unrounded front vowel /ɛː/ in German (as in Bären) has been subject to change since Old High German. It slowly merged with the high-mid unrounded front vowel /eː/, but a reversal seems to have emerged recently. This paper investigates both historical and current change of the Bären vowel. Historical change is investigated through literature-based research; current change is examined through corpus-based research. This paper takes the approach of studying both grammatical context and frequency of use. The two major insights of this study are (i) that the BÄREN vowel has been subject to change for a long time and is still variable, and (ii) that frequency effects interact with grammar in an unexpected way. This interaction shows us how to proceed with hybrid grammar-lexicon modelling and I advocate a combined model of Optimality Theory and Exemplar Theory to account for this type of grammar-frequency interactions.