criticisms of grammaticalization

Martin Haspelmath haspelmath at
Tue Feb 28 15:51:47 UTC 2006

I think the label "epiphenomenon" for grammaticalization theory arose 
when generative linguists looking at what grammaticalization theorists 
said could not find a theory easily comparable to their familiar 
"binding theory" or "X-bar theory". In the generative world view, 
binding facts and phrase structure facts are epiphenomena falling out 
from the respective theories, but grammaticalization phenomena do not 
fall out so easily from grammaticalization theory.

But grammaticalization theory is a very different sort of theory from 
X-bar theory, as every proponent will readily admit. Newmeyer 
(1998:233-4) suggests that the literature on grammaticalization portrays 
it as “an encapsulated phenomenon”, “driven by a distinct set of 
principles governing the phenomenon alone”.

This is not really true (see Haspelmath 2000:§6 and 2004:§3.2.3 for more 
discussion), but it is also the case that there is rather little direct 
general discussion of the key question of why grammaticalization 
exhibits the properties it does (especially unidirectionality, see 
Haspelmath 1999). Maybe it's OK that most grammaticalization research 
focuses on specific language-particular facts, because the most general 
why-questions are also the hardest, and it's not easy to tell whether we 
are making any progress.



Haspelmath, M. 2004. "On directionality in language change with 
particular reference to grammaticalization." In: Olga Fischer, Muriel 
Norde and Harry Perridon (eds). Up and down the cline: /The nature of 
grammaticalization/. (Typological Studies in Language, 59.) Amsterdam: 
Benjamins, 17-44.

Haspelmath, M. 2000. “Why can’t we talk to each other? A review article 
of [Newmeyer, Frederick. 1998. Language form and language function. 
Cambridge: MIT Press.] /Lingua/ 110.4: 235-55.

Haspelmath, M. 1999. "Why is grammaticalization irreversible?" 
/Linguistics/ 37.6: 1043-68.


Martin Haspelmath (haspelmath at
Max-Planck-Institut fuer evolutionaere Anthropologie, Deutscher Platz 6	
D-04103 Leipzig      
Tel. (MPI) +49-341-3550 307, (priv.) +49-341-980 1616

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