criticisms of grammaticalization

D.L. Everett daniel.everett at
Mon Feb 27 19:56:35 UTC 2006

It is perhaps true that all minds have the same capacity for  
expressive power in some non-pathological biological sense. But that  
is all the statement below about 'potential' expressive power  
addresses, not languages.

The EU is investing several hundred thousand euros in the study of  
Piraha over the next three years, with several psycholinguists and  
linguists visiting the Pirahas to conduct follow-up experiments on my  
claims. So we shall have the evidence requested below over the next  
year or three.


On 27 Feb 2006, at 20:45, Johanna Rubba wrote:

> With regard to Dan Everett's statement "that languages do not all  
> have the same expressive power", I would suggest a reminder that  
> all languages do have the same _potential_ for expressive power.  
> Mechanisms such as metaphor, metonymy, blending, word formation  
> techniques such as compounding, zero derivation, etc. are always  
> available to the human mind. Grammaticalization itself is such an  
> extension technique (think of the ways that words like "done" can  
> acquire aspectual nuances in creoles, or the development of the  
> Germanic words for "body" into adverbial/adjectival suffixes such  
> as German "-lich" and English "-ly", acquiring, as the OED says, "a  
> much wider application".)
> I'm fascinated by Dan's work with Pirahã because of its assertion  
> of such a global shaping of language by culture. (Though I can't  
> buy it entirely until other linguists verify it by studying Pirahã  
> and finding such extensive shaping in other languages.) It's  
> trivial that a language will develop words for culturally important  
> artifacts/concepts, and expand the vocabulary when new ones come  
> in, or that languages develop classifier systems based on cultural  
> categories. The idea that a group will deliberately _limit_ its  
> language's  expressive power because of the ideology of the culture  
> is a new twist (perhaps, or perhaps the obverse of Whorf?)
> Dr. Johanna Rubba, Associate Professor, Linguistics
> Linguistics Minor Advisor
> English Department
> California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
> E-mail: jrubba at
> Tel.: 805.756.2184
> Dept. Ofc. Tel.: 805.756.2596
> Dept. Fax: 805.756.6374
> URL:

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