How do you pronounce biopic, synod, and Breughel? - and why? Do our cake and archaic sound the same? Where does the stress go in stalagmite? What's odd about the word epergne? As a finale, the author writes a letter to his 16-year-old self.
Elly van Gelderen provides examples of linguistic cycles from a number of languages and language families, along with an account of the linguistic cycle in terms of minimalist economy principles. A cycle involves grammaticalization from lexical to functional category followed by renewal. Some well-known cycles involve negatives, where full negative phrases are reanalyzed as words and affixes and are then renewed by full phrases again. Verbal agreement is another example: full pronouns are reanalyzed as agreement markers and are renewed again. Each chapter provides data on a separate cycle from a myriad of languages. Van Gelderen argues that the cross-linguistic similarities can be seen as Economy Principles present in the initial cognitive system or Universal Grammar. She further claims that some of the cycles can be used to classify a language as analytic or synthetic, and she provides insight into the shape of the earliest human language and how it evolved.