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LINGUIST List 22.4246

Thu Oct 27 2011

Calls: Historical Linguistics/Sweden

Editor for this issue: Alison Zaharee <alisonlinguistlist.org>

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        1.     Muriel Norde , Exaptation in Language Change: Constraining the Concept

Message 1: Exaptation in Language Change: Constraining the Concept
Date: 26-Oct-2011
From: Muriel Norde <m.norderug.nl>
Subject: Exaptation in Language Change: Constraining the Concept
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Full Title: Exaptation in Language Change: Constraining the Concept

Date: 29-Aug-2012 - 01-Sep-2012
Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Contact Person: Muriel Norde
Meeting Email: < click here to access email >

Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics

Call Deadline: 08-Nov-2011

Meeting Description:

Exaptation in Language Change - Constraining the Concept

This is a workshop proposal to be submitted to the 45th Annual Meeting of the Societas Linguistica Europaea (http://www.sle2012.eu/), to be held at the University of Stockholm, 29 August - 1 September 2012.


Freek Van de Velde, University of Leuven, Freek.VanDeVeldearts.kuleuven.be
Muriel Norde, University of Groningen, M.Norderug.nl

Exaptation is a concept that was first used in evolutionary biology (Gould & Vrba 1982), to refer to co-optation of a certain trait for a new function. A typical example is the use of feathers, originally serving a thermo-regulatory function, for flight. The term was borrowed into linguistics by Roger Lass (1990) for a specific type of morphological change in which 'junk' morphemes come to serve different function. In Lass's own words, exaptation is 'the opportunistic co-optation of a feature whose origin is unrelated or only marginally related to its later use. In other words (loosely) a 'conceptual novelty' or 'invention'.' In order to meet this definition of exaptation, a change thus needed to satisfy two criteria: the source morpheme had to be functionless 'junk', and its new function needed to be entirely novel. Both criteria have been criticized. With regard to the first criterion, Vincent (1995: 435), Giacalone Ramat (1998), Smith (2006) and Willis (2010) pointed out difficulties with regard to the notion of junk. And indeed, Lass later stretched his notion of exaptation, admitting that linguistic exaptation - just like biological exaptation - could also affect non-junk morphology (see Lass 1997: 318), to the effect that the old and the new function may co-exist. Doubt has also been raised with regard to the second criterion, the novelty of the new function, which is central to the notion of exaptation according to Lass (1990: 82) (see also Norde 2001: 244, 2009: 117 and Traugott 2004). Some scholars have argued against the purported novelty of the function after exaptation (Vincent 1995: 436; Giacalone Ramat 1998, Hopper & Traugott 2003: 135-136). If this criterion is jettisoned, we arrive at a fairly broad definition of exaptation, like for instance in Booij (2010: 211), who defines it as '[t]he re-use of morphological markers'. Such a broad conception of exaptation is in line with the notion in evolutionary biology, where neither of the two criteria is decisive for the application of the term to shifts in function, but the question then arises whether this does not make the concept vacuous (see De Cuypere 2005). Despite these criticisms, exaptation has been used as a convenient label for morphological changes that at first sight seem to proceed unpredictably, e.g. by running counter to grammaticalization clines (see Norde 2009: 115-118). It has been applied to various cases of morphological change, discussed in Lass (1990), Norde (2002), Fudeman (2004), Van de Velde (2005, 2006), Narrog (2007), Booij (2010, ms.), Willis (2010) among others.

Call for Papers:

In this workshop, we aim to explore if exaptation is a useful concept in language change and if it is, how it can be constrained so as to avoid over-application. Apart from specific case studies drawing on original data, we welcome papers that address the following issues:

(1) Do we need the concept of exaptation in historical linguistics, or does it reduce to more traditional mechanisms such as reanalysis and analogy (De Cuypere 2005)?
(2) What is the relation between exaptation and grammaticalization? Do they refer to fundamentally different kinds of changes (Vincent 1995), is exaptation a final stage of grammaticalization (Greenberg 1991, Traugott 2004), or are exaptation and grammaticalization just two different labels for the same type of change? After all, both processes involve reanalysis (Narrog 2007), both processes can come about through pragmatic strengthening (see Croft 2000: 126-130). Furthermore, if the old and new function of the exaptatum co-exist (see above) and if the new function is related to the old one, then exaptation involves 'layering' and 'persistence', respectively (see Van de Velde 2006: 61-62), which are also key features of grammaticalization (see Hopper 1991).
(3) What is the relation between exaptation and degrammaticalization? Does exaptation always entail some sort of 'degrammaticalization' (as argued by Heine 2003 and arguably Narrog 2007: 9, 18), or does exaptation often, but not always, go together with degrammaticalization (Norde 2009: 118)?
(4) Does exaptation only apply to morphology (Heine 2003: 173), or is it relevant to syntactic change as well, as Brinton & Stein (1995) have argued?
(5) Is exaptation language-specific (as argued by Heine 2003: 173, but see Narrog for evidence to the contrary)?
(6) Does exaptation happen primarily in cases of 'system disruption', such as typological word order change or deflection (see Norde 2002: 49, 60, 61)?
(7) How should we define the concept of 'novelty', and is it a useful criterion for a change to be qualified as exaptation? Currently, there seem to be different views in the literature on what is exactly understood by a 'new' function. Does this mean (a) an entirely new category in the grammar, (b) a function unrelated to the morpheme's old function, or (c) a different though perhaps not totally unrelated function from the old function?
(8) Is exaptation infrequent (Heine 2003:174, Traugott 2004) and non-recurrent (as argued by Heine 2003: 172)? Or can one morpheme undergo several successive stages of exaptation (as argued by Giacalone Ramat 1998: 110-111 with regard to the -sk- suffix and by Van de Velde 2006 with regard to the Germanic adjective inflection)?
(9) Is exaptation the same thing as what Greenberg (1991) understands by 'regrammaticalization' and as what Croft (2000) understands by 'hypoanalysis', or are there significant differences between these concepts? And what is the overlap with related concept such as 'functional renewal' (Brinton & Stein 1995)?
(10) Morphosyntactic change is often constrained by the overall grammatical structure of a language, in particular when a grammaticalizing element provides a new way of expressing an older formal arrangement (see Heath 1997, 1998). Does this also hold for exaptation? To what extent are exaptation processes triggered, influenced, directed or constrained by the overall structure of the language in which they take place? Can exaptation generally be considered as restorative change, whereby language users opportunistically seize on available morphology to preserve the system, or is it the other way around, and do language users try to attribute meaning to functionless morphology, irrespective of the question whether this new meaning aligns with the older grammatical system?

If you are interested in participating in this workshop, please send both of us a title + a 300 word abstract by November 8, 2011, so we can submit our proposal (including a provisional list of participants and abstracts) to the SLE Conference Manager by November 15. If our proposal is accepted, participants will be invited to submit a full abstract (500 words) by January 15. All abstracts will be reviewed by the convenors as well as by the SLE Scientific Committee.


Booij, G. 2010 (to appear). Construction morphology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Booij, G. manuscript. Recycling morphology: Case endings as markers of Dutch constructions. http://www.hum2.leidenuniv.nl/booijge/pdf/Recycling%20morphology.pdf.
Brinton, L. & D. Stein. 1995. Functional renewal. In: H. Andersen (ed.), Historical Linguistics 1993. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 33-47.
Croft, W. 2000. Explaining language change. An evolutionary approach. Harlow: Longman.
De Cuypere, L. 2005. Exploring exaptation in language change. Folia Linguistica Historica 26: 13-26.
Fudeman, K. 2004. Adjectival agreement vs. adverbal inflection in Balanta. Lingua 114: 105-23.
Giacalone Ramat, A. 1998. Testing the boundaries of grammaticalization. In: A. Giacalone Ramat & P.J. Hopper (eds.), The limits of grammaticalization. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 227-270.
Gould, Stephen J. & Elizabeth S. Vrba. 1982. Exaptation: a missing term in the science of form. Paleobiology 8:1, 4-15.
Greenberg, J.H. 1991. The last stages of grammatical elements: Contractive and expansive desemanticization. In: E.C. Traugott & B. Heine (eds.), Approaches to grammaticalization. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 301-314.
Heath, J. 1997. Lost wax: abrupt replacement of key morphemes in Australian agreement complexes. Diachronica 14: 197-232.
Heath, J. 1998. Hermit crabs: formal renewal of morphology by phonologically mediated affix substitution. Language 74: 728-759.
Heine, B. 2003. On degrammaticalization. In: B.J. Blake & K. Burridge (eds.), Historical linguistics 2001. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 163-179.
Hopper, P.J. 1991. On some principles of grammaticalization. In: E.C. Traugott & B. Heine (eds.), Approaches to grammaticalization. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 17-35.
Hopper, P.J. & E.C. Traugott. 2003. Grammaticalization. 2nd edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lass, R. 1990. How to do things with junk: Exaptation in language evolution. Journal of Linguistics 26: 79-102.
Lass, R. 1997. Historical linguistics and language change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Narrog, H. 2007. Exaptation, grammaticalization, and reanalysis. California Linguistic Notes 32 (1). http://hss.fullerton.edu/linguistics/cln/pdf/Exaptation_Narrog.pdf.
Norde, M. 2001. Deflexion as a counterdirectional factor in grammatical change. Language Sciences 23: 231-264.
Norde, M. 2002. The final stages of grammaticalization: Affixhood and beyond. In: I. Wischer & G. Diewald (eds.), New reflections on grammaticalization. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 45-81.
Norde, M. 2009. Degrammaticalization. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Smith, J.C. 2006. How to do things without junk: the refunctionalization of a pronominal subsystem between Latin and Romance. In: J.-P.Y. Montreuil (ed.), New perspectives on Romance linguistics. Volume II: Phonetics, phonology and dialectology. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 183-205.
Traugott, E.C. 2004. Exaptation and grammaticalization. In: M. Akimoto (ed.), Linguistic studies based on corpora. Tokyo: Hituzi Syobo. 133-156.
Van de Velde, F. 2005. Exaptatie en subjectificatie in de Nederlandse adverbiale morfologie [Exaptation and subjectification in Dutch adverbial morphology]. Handelingen der Koninklijke Zuid-Nederlandse Maatschappij voor Taal- en Letterkunde en Geschiedenis 58: 105-124.
Van de Velde, F. 2006. Herhaalde exaptatie. Een diachrone analyse van de Germaanse adjectiefflexie [Iterative exaptation. A diachronic analysis of the Germanic adjectival inflection]. In: M. Hüning, A. Verhagen, U. Vogl & T. van der Wouden (eds.), Nederlands tussen Duits en Engels. Leiden: Stichting Neerlandistiek Leiden. 47-69.
Vincent, N. 1995. Exaptation and grammaticalization. In: H. Andersen (ed.), Historical linguistics 1993. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 433-445.
Willis, D. 2010. Degrammaticalization and obsolescent morphology: evidence from Slavonic. In: E. Stathi, E. Gehweiler & E. König (eds.), Grammaticalization: current views and issues. 151-178.

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