LINGUIST List 15.1734

Mon Jun 7 2004

Diss: Historical Ling: Lindstrom: 'The History...'

Editor for this issue: Takako Matsui <>


  1. tam_lindstrom, The History of the Concept of Grammaticalisation

Message 1: The History of the Concept of Grammaticalisation

Date: Sun, 6 Jun 2004 12:59:51 -0400 (EDT)
From: tam_lindstrom <>
Subject: The History of the Concept of Grammaticalisation

Institution: University of Sheffield
Program: Department of English Language and Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2004

Author: Therese A. M. Lindstrom

Dissertation Title: The History of the Concept of Grammaticalisation

Linguistic Field: Historical Linguistics, History of Linguistics 

Dissertation Director 1: April M. S. McMahon
Dissertation Director 2: Andrew R. Linn

Dissertation Abstract: 

The present thesis discusses the history and meaning of the term and
concept called grammaticalisation. Linguists usually ascribe the
coinage of the term grammaticalisation to Antoine Meillet (1866-1936),
who allegedly played a vital role in the history of
grammaticalisation. It is also widely acknowledged that
grammaticalisation was in some way 'revived' during the 1970s, and
that Talmy Giv�n had an important role in this, as demonstrated by the
popularity of the saying "Today's morphology is yesterday's syntax"
(taken from one of his articles).

I show that Meillet wrote little about grammaticalisation and that he
hardly ever used this word, and possibly did not mean for it to be
viewed as a term / label. Moreover, the paper in question (Meillet,
1912) is basically a general introduction to a concept which he sees
as a continuation of a notion with a long history. In addition, I
prove that there are no clear links between Meillet and Giv�n's work
in the early 1970s.

Despite the general acceptance that Meillet coined grammaticalisation,
my thesis proves that it could have been coined more than once, and
that it does not always mean the same thing to all users. I show that
sometimes the term is accompanied by examples which others have used
to illustrate lexicalisation, a term which some employ for a process
that is seen as the opposite of grammaticalisation. I therefore
advocate careful use of our definitions of terminology and concepts,
and insist that we should define our notions, instead of letting
examples do the work of illustration and definition. 

Finally, I question whether it is true that grammaticalisation is
unidirectional. I research the history of the view that
grammaticalisation is a unidirectional process. Grammatical relations
can be expressed by different means - e.g. word order, content words
becoming grammatical markers, or parts of words being given a
function. I believe all these should be compared, in order to improve
our knowledge of how languages change and why. I claim that they all
represent sub-processes of a superordinate category which I have
labelled supergrammaticalisation.
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