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LINGUIST List 25.2354

Thu May 29 2014

Review: Historical Linguistics: Ramat, Mauri & Molinelli (2013)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <jsalmonslinguistlist.org>

Date: 27-Nov-2013
From: Anna Alexandrova <aaalexandgmail.com>
Subject: Synchrony and Diachrony
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/24/24-2545.html

EDITOR: Anna Giacalone Ramat
EDITOR: Caterina Mauri
EDITOR: Piera Molinelli
TITLE: Synchrony and Diachrony
SUBTITLE: A dynamic interface
SERIES TITLE: Studies in Language Companion Series 133
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2013

REVIEWER: Anna Alexandrova, Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa

The present volume stems from the workshop “Gradualness in change and its
relation to synchronic variation and use”, organized by the editors, Anna
Giacalone Ramat, Caterina Mauri and Piera Molinelli at the University of Pavia
(Italy) in 2011.

As the editors put it in the introduction, the aim of the volume is “to
investigate the mutual relations between synchrony and diachrony, in order to
shed light on their interface” (p. 1). One of their main claims is that
certain methodological tools, among them semantic maps and constructional
approaches, can be applied both to diachronic and synchronic phenomena, which
helps us understand the relationship between the two dimensions. According to
the editors, the label ‘synchrony-diachrony interface’ can be applied to all
those cases where a phenomenon cannot be accounted for without taking into
consideration both diachronic and synchronic variation. Thus, it involves both
the linguistic data itself and the linguist’s perspective on this data. One of
its most widely recognized instances is the relationship (however
controversial it may be) between gradience and gradualness as features of
synchronic variation and diachronic change, respectively. In fact, a lot has
been done within historical linguistics, dialectology, grammaticalization,
language variation and change and other fields to assess the diachronic
implications of synchronic variation. Analogy should be also considered a
manifestation of the synchrony-diachrony interface. But little has been done
yet to provide a unified analysis of such phenomena, with an appropriate focus
on methodological and theoretical issues. The volume under review is intended
to fill this gap. The papers adopt different frameworks, including
Construction Grammar and Generative Grammar.

All of the languages covered are European. Most papers draw data from
Germanic: English is considered by Trousdale, Margerie, Disney, van der
Auwera, van de Pol & Cuyckens; German data is analysed by van der Auwera;
Dutch, by De Vos and Semplicini; Swedish, by Rosenkvist & Skärlund. Romance is
represented by Latin (Magni; Fedriani, Manzelli & Ramat), Ladin (Wratil),
Italian (Voghera), and South Calabrian dialects (De Angelis). Two papers are
dedicated to other Indo-European languages, Modern Greek dialects and Welsh,
by Melissaropoulou and Currie, respectively. Only one paper, by Egedi, treats
a non-IE language, Hungarian. Finally, two articles discuss linguistic areas:
the Circum-Mediterranean area is in the focus of Fedriani, Manzelli & Ramat,
whereas Wratil discusses the Alpine languages, comprising a number of Romance
and Germanic varieties.

The book is divided in three parts, each of which is centered on some
particular problem pertaining to the synchrony-diachrony interface.

The first part, “The role of analogy and constructions in the
synchrony-diachrony interface”, discusses cases of diachronic change driven by
synchronically available elements of variation. It opens with “Gradualness in
language change: A constructional perspective”, by Graeme Trousdale, who aims
to reconcile the hypotheses of gradualness and abrupt reanalysis. The author
argues that it is inaccurate to see gradualness as the diachronic equivalent
of synchronic gradience. It is demonstrated that the perception of gradualness
can depend on the fact that the process of constructionalization might consist
of a series of micro-steps, each, in turn, a case of abrupt neoanalysis. The
author presents a case study, consisting of a constructional, corpus-driven
account of the development of the English preposition ‘during’ from the Middle
English present participle ‘duren’, ‘during’, derived in turn from French
‘durer’ (from Latin ‘durare’, ‘to be hard, hold out, last’).

In “Gradual change and continual variation: The history of a verb-initial
construction in Welsh”, by Oliver Currie, two different analyses of the
development of Absolute-initial verb (AIV) order in Early Modern Welsh are
compared, a diachronic Construction Grammar account and a Principles and
Parameters analysis. The AIV order was a marginal construction in Middle
Welsh, but appears to be the dominant word order in several Early Modern Welsh
texts, and its definitive establishment was preceded by a protracted period of
variation. The abovementioned theoretical perspectives differ greatly with
respect to the question of the nature of syntactic change (gradualness vs.
discreteness) and the problem of syntactic variation. The Principles and
Parameters framework envisages syntactic change as discrete, whereas
historical data suggests gradual patterns. The author argues that a
Construction Grammar account of the development of the AIV order in Welsh as a
gradual increase in the frequency of use of the construction under analysis
fits the data better. The process was motivated by sociolinguistic and
stylistic factors and did not involve either grammaticalization or change in
the meaning or function of the construction. Given this, Traugott and
Trousdale’s (2008) model of gradualness as a sequence of discrete and
therefore abrupt micro-steps at the level of individual speakers, resulting in
gradual change at the level of community, is not relevant here.

In “Can you literally be scared sick? The role of analogy in the rise of a
network of Resultative and Degree Modifier constructions”, by Hélène Margerie,
the micro-construction ‘NP1 scare NP2 sick / NP be scared sick’ is examined in
the light of comparable diachronic changes, with the use of corpus and
internet data. It appears that the micro-construction in question does not
follow the pathway of other resultative constructions of the form ‘NP1 VB NP2
/ NP be ADJ XP’, which were historically reanalyzed into Degree Modifier
constructions. The author concludes that the resultative meaning of the ‘NP1
scare NP2 sick / NP be scared sick’ construction is an outcome of analogical
change, shaped on the model of formally and functionally related

“The reputed sense of ‘be meant to’: A case of gradual change by analogy”, by
Steve Disney, is a case study in a usage-based construction grammar
perspective. In its evidential ‘reputed’ sense, it is not a passive
counterpart of ‘mean’. The paper discusses the development of this evidential
use by analogy with ‘hearsay’ NCI (nominativus cum infinitivo) constructions.
‘Be meant to’ has such acknowledged meanings as intention, weak obligation and
predestination/design. Moreover, a novel evidential ‘reputed’ sense has
recently evolved in British English, together with ‘be supposed to’, the
latter having multiple synonymy with the former. Now, the construction ‘be
meant to’ can express a reported belief about an expected future. According to
the author, the developmental path of ‘be meant to’ challenges the Semantic
Map Connectivity Hypothesis (Croft 2001), in that the construction under
analysis seems to ‘miss’ a sense in the course of its development.

In “Gradualness in analogical change as a complexification stage in a language
simplification process: A case study from Modern Greek dialects”, by Dimitra
Melissaropoulou, cross-paradigmatic levelling in the nominal system is
analysed as a gradual process, leading to grammar simplification. Several
Greek dialects are discussed, namely Aivaliot, Lesvian, Pontic, Livisi, and
Silli. The focus falls on the intra-dialectal role of markedness, allomorphy,
and case syncretism. There appears to be a tendency for the loss of inflection
class sub-paradigms and the establishment of uniform inflectional patterns,
i.e. greater paradigmatic simplicity. The author aims to show that the
direction of change can be predicted on the basis of synchronic variation and,
moreover, intra-dialectal variation can represent different stages of the same

The second part, “Synchronic variation and language change”, focuses on
synchronic variation as the source and result of diachronic change; in other
words, it discusses synchronic variation as motivated by or, on the contrary,
motivating language change.

In “Semantic maps, for synchronic and diachronic typology”, by Johan van der
Auwera, the advantages of classical, or ‘connectivity’ semantic maps are
discussed compared to more recent statistical maps, and the possibilities
offered by the latter for studying diachronic processes are illustrated. The
‘old’ type of semantic maps has the feature of linking, which is crucial for
the representation of connections between uses. As for statistical maps, they
show only the proximity of the contexts, not the connections. What is more,
connectivity maps can represent theories, as they are predictive and
falsifiable, whereas proximity maps can be used only for generalizations
concerning certain contexts in which certain constructions occur. Van der
Auwera defends the connectivity approach and claims that, although both types
of semantic maps have merits, a major strong point of connectivity maps is
that they offer an insightful model of synchronic variation and at the same
time promote a diachronic perspective.

“Synchronic gradience and language change in Latin genitive constructions”, by
Elisabetta Magni, is dedicated to Latin adnominal constructions. It is
well-known that there is no strict borderline between possession in a broad
sense (anchoring relations) and other semantic types of adnominal modification
(non-anchoring relations). In Latin, with its flexible word order, genitive
constructions exhibit both G(enitive)N(noun) and NG patterns. As for their
semantics, they can convey possessive meanings, when the possessor performs
the role of a pragmatic anchor (or, in other words, a reference point) for
identifying the possessee, but they can also express non-anchoring relations,
being potentially ambiguous between different readings. It competes with
another widespread adnominal construction, namely, ‘Noun + denominal
adjective’, and their functions converge to a certain extent. After a long
period of constructional variation, NG structures gradually oust constructions
with denominal adjectives and become the preferred means for expressing
non-anchoring relations.

“Double agreement in the Alpine languages”, by Melani Wratil, provides an
account of double agreement effects in several linguistic varieties: Bavarian,
Alemannic and Ladin. Alpine languages exhibit agreement allomorphy in verbal
inflection, reflecting an intermediate stage in the grammaticalization of
atonic subject pronouns to verbal agreement suffixes. Analyzing the phenomenon
in a generative perspective, the author claims that its emergence gave rise to
more economical structures, as the highly specialized pronominal and verbal
paradigms brought about the least costly syntactic derivations and the least
redundant representations which can be compatible with the Primary Linguistic

In “On variation in gender agreement: The neutralization of pronominal gender
in Dutch”, by Lien De Vos, the triggering role of competition between
syntactic and semantic factors for variation in gender agreement is accounted
for. The northern Dutch category of gender is known to have evolved from a
three-term system to a two-term one, as masculine and feminine fused into one
gender. As for Southern Dutch, although it retains the original three-gender
system, it appears to be in transition from a grammatical gender system
towards a more semantic one. Evidence from a corpus of spoken Dutch, ‘Corpus
Gesproken Nederlands’, is provided to support the claim that in Southern Dutch
the antecedent’s position in the Givenness Hierarchy and its syntactic role
influence the use of gender-marked pronouns. The synchronic variety is
explained diachronically as depending on increased structural ambiguity,
caused by the reduction of gender-marking morphology.

In ‘Synchronic variation and grammatical change: The case of Dutch double
gender nouns’, by Chiara Semplicini, one more aspect of gender in Dutch is
investigated: double gender nouns (DGNs), a category which, on the one hand,
seems to be a marginal phenomenon, but, on the other hand, appears to be
persistent in the history of the language. DGNs tend to form kinds of semantic
clusters and include such referents as objects and substances, as well as
abstract terms. The number of nouns involved constantly increased from the
Middle Ages, when the overt gender markers and, consequently, transparency of
the inflectional system were lost, up to the modern period, but decreased
drastically in the 20th century due to the process of systematization and
standardization. The author provides additional evidence of the gradual loss
of grammatical gender in Dutch in favor of a semantic system and to explain
the diachronic persistence of the phenomenon under study.

In ‘A case study on the relationship between grammatical change and synchronic
variation: The emergence of tipo[-N] in Italian’, by Miriam Voghera, a
diversity of non-nominal uses of Italian ‘tipo’ (‘type’), exhibiting a complex
network of syntactic and pragmatic functions, is classified and analyzed in
terms of diachronic development and synchronic variation. It is shown how the
noun underwent the decategorization process, first developing the function of
adnominal modifier in the first half of the 20th century and acquiring, later
on, novel uses, including as similative marker, approximator, interclausal
connector and focus marker. The most characteristic features of the phenomenon
is the retention, up to the present, of uses which emerged at different stages
(although frequency and relevance of each of them have changed significantly
over time) and fuzziness of their categorial space. Upon the whole, ‘tipo’
exhibits the basic properties of grammaticalization and is coherent with the
cline of the development of discourse particles (Traugott 1995, 2008).

‘Grammaticalization in the present -- The changes of modern Swedish ‘typ’’, by
Henrik Rosenkvist and Sanna Skärlund, is a corpus-driven study, aiming to
account for the reinterpretation of the word ‘typ’ as a preposition and,
subsequently, as an adverb and a discourse marker in the 20th century. This
taxonomic lexeme appears to have a strong tendency towards grammaticalization,
confirmed by analogous patterns in such languages as Italian, Russian, English
and French. The authors conclude that the development of non-nominal uses of
‘typ’ started about 1930 in technology-related discourse, with a high degree
of probability, specifically connected with Swedish aircraft.

The papers in the third part, “Gradualness in language change”, explore to
what extent diachronic change is gradual, providing case studies regarding
particular situations of gradual change, such as language contact.

In “Gradualness in change in English (augmented) absolutes”, by Nikki van de
Pol and Hubert Cuyckens, the history of absolute constructions (ACs) is traced
from Old English to the present time and analyzed in a constructional
perspective. Two major subtypes of ACs are singled out: augmented absolutes,
i.e. those introduced by a preposition, and unaugmented absolutes, which do
not exhibit any overt marker of syntactic linkage with the matrix clause. In
Old English ACs, both the subject and the participle were marked for dative;
however, due to the consequent loss of case morphology the constructions
became, on the one hand, less recognizable, favoring explicit marking of the
beginning of an AC, and, on the other hand, their structural possibilities
broadened, such that more and more predicate types entered ACs. Augmented
absolutes, introduced by the preposition ‘with’, initially indicated manner or
a sort of an accompanying circumstance. Their frequency gradually increased
over time, ousting other augmentors (e.g., ‘after’, ‘at’, ‘upon’, ‘by reason
of’, common in Middle and Modern English), their meaning evolved towards
vagueness and generality, and ‘with’ underwent semantic bleaching, becoming a
lexically empty marker of the beginning of an AC.

In “Grammatical encoding of referentiality in the history of Hungarian”, by
Barbara Egedi, the development of the definite article from a distal
demonstrative modifier is explained within a Minimalist framework. The paper
presents a piece of research from a huge project on the generative diachronic
syntax of Hungarian. The author assumes that as early as in Old Hungarian this
element was already a fully-fledged article, with a structural position of its
own; hence, it encoded definiteness at the syntactic level, notwithstanding
the coexistence with the homophonous demonstrative marker and, initially, a
more limited distribution with respect to the contemporary language. A
parallel is drawn with the rise of the definite article out of the Latin
demonstrative ‘ille’, originally located in the specifier of the Determiner
Phrase and, together with the loss of the first syllable, was reinterpreted as
an element in D (Giusti 2001).

“Gradualness in contact-induced constructional replication: The Abstract
Possession construction in the Circum-Mediterranean area”, by Chiara Fedriani,
Gianguido Manzelli and Paolo Ramat, surveys the diachronic spread and
synchronic areal distribution of the Abstract Possession
‘habēre’-construction, which appears to originate in Classical and Late Latin
and to be grammaticalized and diffused to different extents across a wide
range of Circum-Mediterranean languages. Generally speaking, there is a strong
semantic bond between Possessors and Experiencers in the languages of the
world, and constructions conveying concrete possession are frequently
recruited to express feelings and states, for instance, being right/wrong, or
even the age of a person. The present study takes into account 16 concepts
pertaining to several semantic domains (physical feelings and types of pain,
emotions, moral states, etc.) in a sample of languages which comprises
Albanian, Bulgarian, Egyptian Arabic, French, Italian, Macedonian, Maltese,
Modern Greek, Moroccan Arabic, Palestinian Arabic, Serbo-Croat, Slovenian,
Spanish, and Turkish. The authors come to the conclusion that physical
feelings are most compatible with the AP construction and establish a semantic
hierarchy (‘physical feelings > mental feelings’), which, actually, implies
that a language which uses the abovementioned construction to convey a mental
feeling is prone to use the same strategy for physical feelings, whereas the
opposite implication does not hold.

In “‘Binding Hierarchy’ and peculiarities of the verb ‘potere’ in some
Southern Calabrian varieties”, by Alessandro De Angelis, a range of
constructions with the modal verb ‘potere’ (‘can, be able to’) is accounted
for in terms of syntax, semantics and contact-induced grammaticalization in
several Calabrian varieties which have been in contact with some Greek
dialects spoken in Southern Italy. In particular, the author demonstrates how
the infinitive in dependent clauses was gradually replaced by finite verbs
introduced by a complementizer deriving from Latin ‘mŏdo’ or ‘quod’. De
Angelis argues that the process started in purposive and completive sentences
with desiderative predicates, extending later on to all the dependent clauses
with irrealis semantics. Since a very similar path of change is attested in
Late Greek and in the Greek varieties of Italy, it can be considered a case of
replica grammaticalization. The final step in the process is constituted by
the modal verb ‘potere’, which begins to take finite forms of dependent verbs,
although it is not possible in the Greek dialects of Italy, where the
analogous verb is the only exception to the construction.

The volume under review is certainly an important contribution to the study of
the interaction between synchrony and diachrony. It will be of interest to a
wide range of linguists working on grammaticalization, language change,
typology, areal linguistics and dialectology.

The very term ‘interface’, in the title, is used in a non-trivial way. In the
literature, it is conventionally used to refer to the interaction between
different linguistic levels, conceived of as modules. As a matter of fact,
synchrony and diachrony have nothing to do with linguistic levels, or modules;
they are two domains of linguistic research.

Although the editors state that the focus of the volume is on theoretical and
methodological issues (p. 1), the volume is more empirically rather than
theoretically driven, which, I suppose, is determined by the subject itself.
Even the fact that every article ends with a short theoretical and
methodological appendix, titled “Focus on the dynamic interface between
synchrony and diachrony”, does not counterbalance the empirical tendency. It
looks more like a collection of case studies illustrating some theoretical
claims concerning diachrony and its relationship with synchrony, usually
points well-established in literature. The exceptions are the editors’
introductory chapter and the paper by van der Auwera, where the
methodological/theoretical focus is really central. The papers by Trousdale
and Currie, who provide a thorough analysis of gradualness in language change
as a general problem, as well as Fedriani, Manzelli & Ramat with their
interesting reflections on contact-induced grammaticalization are also notable
in this respect.

Rosenkvist and Skärlund strongly criticize proponents of Grammaticalization
Theory for the extensive use of data from languages without written records
from earlier stages, in particular Bybee et al. (1994) and Heine & Kuteva
(2002). The reconstruction of morphosyntactic change in such cases presents
well-known methodological problems, but to assert that, in principle, there is
no such a thing as a reliable reconstructed path of grammaticalization and
that “reconstruction is no more than guessing” (p. 334) is too drastic.
Reconstructions rely on the Comparative Method, not mere guessing.
Reconstructions are needed in diachronic typology to provide balanced language
samples, typically including linguistic families lacking written records from
earlier stages. As for Heine and Kuteva, they are always explicit about
reconstructed vs. attested instances of language change in their lexicon.

The paper by Fedriani, Manzelli and Ramat offers numerous insights into
contact-induced grammaticalization phenomena and lexical typology, but some of
their data seems inaccurate, as it is not clear how the authors deal with
synonymy and synchronic constructional variation. Considering the focus of the
present volume, it is somewhat surprising that the corresponding constructions
from the languages under comparison are reported as if they were the only
strategies available. For instance, the authors claim that “the two
intersubjective states of “being right/wrong” constitute a lexical island … as
they are always coded by means of prototypical possessive constructions in our
data, the only exception for “being right” being Macedonian …” (p. 411).
However, in both Bulgarian and Macedonian, constructions with the verb ‘to be’
are used to convey the concepts ‘to be right’ and ‘to be wrong’ along with the
possessive constructions. In Bulgarian the meaning ‘to be right’ is conveyed
by the verb ‘to be’ combined with a predicative adjective, ‘prav săm’ (lit.
‘right be.1SG’), as well as by the possessive construction ‘imam pravo’ (lit.
‘have.1SG right’), meaning also ‘to have the right (e.g., to do sth)’. The
same holds for Macedonian, where the “existential” construction ‘vo pravo sum’
(in right be.1SG) coexists with the possessive ‘imam pravo’ (‘have.1SG
right’). In Bulgarian, the concept ‘to be afraid’ can be expressed by the
stative verb ‘straxuvam se’, the stative periphrasis ‘strax me e’ (fear
1SG.ACC be.3SG) and, finally, by the ‘habēre’-construction ‘imam straxa’
(have.1SG fear.DEF); ‘to be worried’ corresponds not only to ‘raztrevožen săm’
(‘worried be.1SG’), but also to ‘imam griži’ (‘have.1sg worry.PL’) and ‘griža
me e (za teb)’ (‘worry 1SG.ACC be.3SG (for you.ACC)’). Structural variation
can also be observed in the semantic field of pain: En. ‘to have a stomach
ache’ corresponds not only to Blg. ‘imam stomašni bolki’ (have.1SG
stomach.ADJ.PL aches.PL), but also to ‘boli me stomaxăt’ (ache.3SG 1SG.ACC
stomach.DEF); ‘to have a headache’ corresponds both to ‘boli me glavata’
(ache.3SG 1SG.ACC head.DEF) and ‘imam glavobolie’ (have.1SG headache). If this
kind of systematic variation is not taken into account, the quantitative
analysis will be skewed.

On another minor point, because topics across some papers intersect (e.g.,
grammaticalization of the noun ‘type’ in different languages addressed by
Voghera and Rosenkvist & Skärlund, or accounts of the category of gender in
Dutch by De Vos and Semplicini), the volume would have benefited from

Overall, though, the book makes a very good impression and is full of
insightful analyses of a wide range of morphosyntactic and lexical phenomena.

Bybee, Joan, Perkins, Revere & Pagliuca, William. 1994. The Evolution of
Grammar. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Croft, William 2001. Radical Construction Grammar: Syntactic Theory in
Typological Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Giusti, Giuliana. 2001. The birth of a functional category: From Latin ILLE to
the Romance article and personal pronoun. // Current Studies in Italian
Syntax. Essays Offered to Lorenzo Renzi [North Holland New Linguistic Series
59] Guglielmo Cinque & Giampaolo Salvi (eds.), 157-171. Oxford: Elsevier.

Heine, Berndt & Kuteva, Tania. 2002. World Lexicon of Grammaticalization.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Traugott, Elisabeth Closs. 1995. The role of the development of discourse
markers in a theory of
grammaticalization, Paper presented at ICHL XII, Manchester.

Traugott, Elizabeth Closs & Trousdale, Graeme. 2008. Gradience, gradualness
and grammaticalisation: How do they intersect? // Gradience, Gradualness and
Grammaticalisation [Typological Studies in Language 90]. Elizabeth Closs
Traugott & Graeme Trousdale (eds.), 19-44. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Traugott, Elisabeth Closs. 2010. (Inter)subjectivity and
(inter)subjectification: A reassessment. // Subjectification,
Intersubjectification and Grammaticalization. Kristin Davidse, Lieven
Vandelanotte & Hubert Cuyckens (eds.), 29-71. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Anna Alexandrova holds a degree in Russian and English philology. She is now a
PhD student in linguistics at the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa (Italy).
Her research interests include linguistic typology, Aktionsart, aspectual
systems and verbal morphology, both in synchrony and diachrony.
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