Typology of Defectiveness: Introduction  
  Surrey Morphology GroupDepartment of EnglishUniversity of Surrey
  Typology of Defectiveness Project
Greville CorbettMatthew BaermanDunstan Brown  
AHRC grant number AH/D001579/1

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The term 'defectiveness' refers to gaps in inflectional paradigms — specifically, gaps which do not appear to follow from natural restrictions imposed by meaning or function. The Latin noun for 'change' is a textbook example: bizarrely, it lacks nominative and dative singular forms, and has no genitive plural:

    singular plural    
      nominative -------- vicēs
  accusative vicem vicēs
  genitive vicis --------
  dative -------- vicibus
  ablative vice vicibus

The fact that inflectional paradigms may have such anomalous gaps in them has been known since at least the days of the classical grammarians, but now as then, we understand little about them. And though the existence of defective paradigms is indisputable, few people could name more than a handful of examples. The project A Typology of Defectiveness, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, completed in February 2009, has aimed to expand our empirical knowledge of this intriguing phenomenon and to clarify its significance for the study of language. This website hosts two complementary databases. The Typological Database examines the different types of defective paradigms according to various typological parameters, while the 100-language Survey looks for plausible examples within a controlled sample, in order to gain a picture of how prevalent defectiveness actually is in the languages of the world.

Page last updated 06-May-2009