grammaticalization and complexity

scott delancey delancey at
Thu Mar 17 06:52:58 UTC 2011

On Wed, 16 Mar 2011 10:24:13 -0700 (PDT), Frederick J Newmeyer <fjn at> wrote:
> Here's a better example of what I am looking for. A case where the result of grammaticalization is more 
> irregularity and idiosyncracy. As a hypothetical example, say we have one or more verbs or nouns 
> grammaticalizing into prepositions (or whatever), where the resultant prepositions (or whatever) are irregular 
> in some way with respect to other  pre-existing members of that class.

But that's always how it happens.  Various verbs or nouns make their individual way toward the adposition class, each at its own pace, so that many members or incipient members of the category have idiosyncratic sets of noun- or verb-like behaviors.  The classic study, dealing with the verb-adposition cline, is Li and Thompson's "Coverbs in Mandarin Chinese:  Verbs or prepositions?" in Journal of Chinese Linguistics 1974; for a study of the development of denominal adpositions, see my "Grammaticalization and the gradience of categories:  Relator nouns and postpositions in Tibetan and Burmese" in the Givón festschrift.

For an example connected with the history of English modals, which was a similarly piecemeal process, as Frans Plank has shown, look at the motley set of English quasi-auxiliaries -- be gonna, usta, ('d) better, etc. -- each with its own unique distributional properties.  (The classic study is Bolinger's "Wanna and the gradience of auxiliaries" in Wege zur Universalien Forschung:  Sprachwissenschaftliche Beiträge zum 60. Geburtstag von Hansjakob Seiler.

How else could you imagine this happening?
Scott DeLancey
Department of Linguistics
University of Oregon 1290
Eugene, OR 97403-1290, USA

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