Common Semantic Denominators of the Internal Vowel Alternation System in English

Elena Even-Simkin, Yishai Tobin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The Internal Vowel Alternation (IVA) system is commonly referred to as arbitrarily appearing in a small number of the so-called irregular noun plurals (e.g. goose-geese, mouse-mice) and past tense verb forms (e.g. sing-sang, take-took) in Modern English. But, historically, IVA was a prevalent and productive process in Old English in both the nominal and the verbal systems. In this paper, we will postulate that the IVA is a fullfledged sign system composed of a signal (signifiant) that is connected to a meaning (signifië) in the Saussurean sense. It has already been demonstrated that the IVA nominal and verbal forms are systematic phonologically (Even-Simkin and Tobin 2009). In this paper, we will present the semantic systems underlying the IVA forms. Beedham (2005: 114) argues that "[a]ll linguistic forms must fit into the system somehow, and they all must have a meaning, it is simply a case of working out how they fit in and what the meaning is". In this semantic analysis of the IVA forms we will show that the English IVA systems are both motivated and systematic semantically - i.e. that differences in form always imply differences in meaning (Bolinger 1977). We will maintain that each IVA pattern reflects a fundamental common semantic denominator. Thus our study connects the form-phonology and the meaning-semantics of the phenomenon of IVA as a full-fledged system of linguistic signs in English.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)308-330
Number of pages23
JournalPoznan Studies in Contemporary Linguistics
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2011


  • IVA system
  • Noun plurals
  • Past tense verbs
  • Semantic aspect

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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