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Evolutionary Syntax

By Ljiljana Progovac

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The Making of Vernacular Singapore English

By Zhiming Bao

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Academic Paper

Title: A multi-modular approach to gradual change in grammaticalization
Author: Elaine J. Francis
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Institution: Purdue University
Author: Etsuyo Yuasa
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Institution: Ohio State University
Linguistic Field: Syntax
Subject Language: Japanese
Chinese, Yue
Abstract: Examining four constructions in three languages (English quantificational nouns, Japanese subordinating conjunctions, Cantonese coverbs, Japanese deverbal postpositions), this paper shows that semantic properties can change faster than syntactic properties in gradual processes of grammaticalization. In each of these cases, the syntactic properties of one category become associated with the semantic properties of a different category when an item undergoes semantic change, leading to the appearance of mixed categorial properties.

We propose that this sort of change is best captured using a multi-modular framework (Sadock 1991, Yuasa 2005), which allows changes to affect semantics independently of syntax, and which shows clearly that the relevant items and constructions still conform to the separate structural constraints of syntax and semantics, despite the unusual combination of properties. These findings are important for theories of grammaticalization because they suggest that the cover term 'decategorialization' (the loss of grammatical properties associated with the source category) must be understood in terms of at least two separate processes: the effects of semantic change on an item's distribution; and the effects of frequency (Bybee & Hopper 2001) and Pressure for Structure–Concept Iconicity (Newmeyer 1998) on an item's syntactic categorization.

Our case studies show that the first kind of decategorialization effects can occur even in the absence of the second kind. Implications of these findings, including possible reasons for both the instability and the long-term retention of mismatch constructions, are also considered.


This article appears IN Journal of Linguistics Vol. 44, Issue 1, which you can READ on Cambridge's site or on LINGUIST .

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