Johanna Rubba jrubba at HARP.AIX.CALPOLY.EDU
Thu Mar 28 20:52:36 UTC 1996

On the general subject of teleology in language change, I'd like to pick
up Geoff Nathan's thread and weave it a bit into Ron Kuzar's and Alan
King's remarks.

Elizabeth Traugott and Ekkehardt Koenig have done fascinating work on
processes like 'pragmatic strengthening' in grammaticalization, whereby a
meaning once available only as an inference becomes built in to the
semantics of an expression, such that it is no longer only implied by the
expression, but must necessarily be understood when the expression is
used. I think an example is the extension of 'since' from purely temporal
to temporal AND causal.

I believe that Geoff's remarks about local improvement and competing
motivations from different 'locales' in language can inform the kinds of
changes that Ron and Alan talk about, such as movement from dative-marked
experiencers to nominative-marked ones, or movement from coding
experiencers as obliques to coding them as subjects.

I'd suggest that there are competing motivations for choice of what to
mark as subject; that among these are things like the 'me-first'
principle, bias towards agentive construal in clauses, topicality of a
referent in the particular discourse, face considerations, and information
structure (given/new), among who knows what other parameters (this is
something I've been thinking about only informally). This idea sets up a
tradeoff in syntax similar to the phonological tradeoffs Geoff talks about
 -- you may give up face considerations in order to accommodate
topicality, for example. Of course, how these tradeoffs become
conventionalized to the point of a nominative-marked experiencer-subject
construction displacing a dative-marked oblique experiencer construction
in a language is another question.

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Johanna Rubba   Assistant Professor, Linguistics              =
English Department, California Polytechnic State University   =
San Luis Obispo, CA 93407                                     =
Tel. (805)-756-0117  E-mail: jrubba at oboe.aix.calpoly.edu      =
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