criticisms of grammaticalization

Frederick J Newmeyer fjn at
Mon Feb 27 22:57:19 UTC 2006

On Sat, 25 Feb 2006, Tom Givon wrote:

> Up to a point, linguistic *diachrony* is rather 
> similar to bio-evolution. Both are ultimately 
> adaptively-driven, thus (Labov & Newmeyer 
> notwithstanding) functionally motivated. 

If you think that I reject the idea that language 
change is to a large extent functionally motivated, 
Talmy, could you please support your charge with a 
quote from something I have written in the past 20 
years? In fact, my position on this issue is clear:

"... one can indeed make the case that many 
innovations [in language change] are motivated by user-based 
external functions. This is particularly true for those that 
arise language-internally." (Newmeyer 2005: 188)

> Finally, if I were to hazard a guess, I'd say 
> Newmeyer, Joseph and Janda have been fighting 
> the same old rear-guard war agains viewing 
> grammaticalization as a *natural phenomenon*, 
> rather than a bizarre artifact 
> ('epiphenomenon'). 

Since when are 'natural phenomena' and 
'epiphenomena' counterposed notions? Any 
epiphenomenon that results from the interplay of 
natural forces (as does grammaticalization) is ipso 
facto 'natural'. Do you disagree, as you seem to, 
with Joan Bybee's comment that 'all of grammar is 

> And of course, their work is part and parcel of 
> what Chomsky has been trying to do over a 
> lifetime; that is, viewing language as a unique 
> phenomenon that is not subject to selective 
> pressures (viz his recent, most intriguing, 
> foray into evolution--of 'recursivity').

How could I (or anybody else) believe that grammaticalization is 
epiphenomenal and at the same time believe that it is 'a unique 
phenomenon'? The two notions are contradictory.


REFERENCE: Newmeyer, Frederick  J. 2005. Possible and Probable 
Languages: A Generative Perspective on Linguistic 
Typology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Frederick J. Newmeyer
Howard and Frances Nostrand Professor of 
Department of Linguistics, University of Washington
Seattle WA 98195-4340 USA
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