criticisms of grammaticalization

Anggarrgoon anggarrgoon at
Wed Mar 1 02:26:35 UTC 2006

I'd like to return to Martin's first point, and Joan's comment:

> 1. Unidirectionality, if it exists, is an even greater problem for 
> functionalism than if it turns out to be false. Developments that span 
> centuries would have to be explained independently of speakers, who only 
> have access to three generations of other speakers. (I attribute this one to 
> Janda 2001.)

> Point 1 is only a problem if you assume that language change takes place 
> in language acquisition. If you assume that grammaticization is driven 
> by processes that occur as language is used, by everyone all the time, 
> then unidirectionality is what you would expect.

I don't think it's necessarily problematic for acquisition-based 
theories. If I wanted to construct an argument about unidirectionality 
within a acquisition-based/Minimalist framework of language change I 
would argue that certain operations are privileged (Move over Merge, for 
example), so there's a "built-in" bias for kids to prefer one potential 
Grammar over another. I think Elly van Gelderen has done some work on 
developing this line of argument, and privileging certain operations is 
already part of Minimalism, as is a more general idea of economy.

I would further note that there are a number of one-way processes in 
language change other than grammaticalization. For example, nasal-stop 
assimilation is always anticipatory. For example, the sequence [*anpa] 
becomes [ampa] but never [anda] (that is, the nasal assimilates to the 
p.o.a. of the stop, not vice versa). *k > ? (glottal stop) is common, 
while the reverse isn't. Whether you model such change as the result of 
misacquisition of the 'correct' target or as a change in the speech of 
adults (or both) is irrelevant to issues of directionality, as far as I 
can see. It's shaped by a combination of perceptual and articulatory 
factors. Kids acquiring language are still subject to those factors.


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