LINGUIST List 7.1124

Thu Aug 8 1996

Qs: Hebrew modals, Grammaticalization, Chance correspondences

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  1. "B. Koole", Hebrew modals
  2. Frederick Newmeyer, Grammaticalization
  3., chance correspondences

Message 1: Hebrew modals

Date: Thu, 08 Aug 1996 14:00:53 +0200
From: "B. Koole" <>
Subject: Hebrew modals

I am looking for a grammarbook in which I can find the hebrew modals.
Please reply directly to me at

Thanks a lot,

Greetings Bauke
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Message 2: Grammaticalization

Date: Wed, 07 Aug 1996 15:35:02 PDT
From: Frederick Newmeyer <>
Subject: Grammaticalization
Most of the writings on grammaticalization stress its purported
*unidirectionality* -- lexical categories become functional categories
which become clitics which become affixes, but the reverse is said to
never (or almost never) happen.

My impression is that in the history of English, the reverse process has
happened many times. In particular, prepositions have often been
reanalyzed as nouns, verbs, or adjectives. Some examples:

P becoming V: 'down three drinks'; 'up the stakes'; 'off the pigs' (1960s
protesters slogan).

P becoming N: 'inn' (from P 'in'); 'bye' (from P 'by'); 'out' (in sports
or as in 'I have an out'); 'behind' (i.e. buttocks); 'in' (as in 'I have
an in').

P becoming A: predicative 'for' and 'against' ('how many of you are
against?'); 'near'; 'through' (in the sense of 'finished'); 'on' and 'off'
('I'm just not on today'); 'behind' (we've never been so behind').

There seem to be cases of prepositions that derive historically from
nouns, which then *reconverted* to nounhood. I think that this is the
case with nouns like 'inside', 'outside', 'front' (in certain usages).

I'm not 100% sure of the etymology of some of the above, but if most
of these changes actually happened, it is possible that a majority of
English prepositions have actually 'upgraded', contrary to the claims
in much writing on grammaticalization.

Some questions:

1. Are there more examples of such changes from the history of English?

2. What about other languages? I am not so interested in isolated
examples of upgrading, but in wholesale upgrading, as seems to have
occurred with English prepositions. (I am aware of discussions by
Brian Joseph and Rich Janda of similar phenomena, but wonder if there
is a more extensive literature.)

3. What are the consequences for theories of grammaticalization?

Thanks. I'll summarize if there is enough interest.

Fritz Newmeyer
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Message 3: chance correspondences

Date: Thu, 08 Aug 1996 15:07:23 +1000
From: <>
Subject: chance correspondences
Some time ago (Linguist List Vol. 6-797) there was a discussion on the
probability of chance correspondences in the comparison of unrelated
languages. I would like to ask for help in evaluating a situation
along similar lines. The scenario follows.

Language X is a living language, of which we are using a dictionary
consisting of approx. 3500 words (we have excluded obvious loanwords
from its neighbours). It is believed that this language has long
existed in isolation and is conservative. It has insignificant
dialectal differentiation. Its stories are told in a formulaic
(memorised) way.

We are comparing this isolated language with:

1. Language A, which is preserved in about 200 inscriptions of which 
about 200-250 words can be used for comparison (some of which are 
loanwords and personal names.
2. Language B, which is very closely related to Language A, and is 
attested in about 60-80 glosses. 
Chronologically A and B belong to a period of 15-20 centuries ago. 
Both have no "descendants" or "continuants". There are some 
extralinguistic phenomena that link the culture of Lang X to the 
cultures of Lang A and B.
3. Material from Language C which is over 12 centuries old, with a 
complete vocabulary and with a large number of closely related 
Languages A, B, C belong to closely related subgroups within a 
language family.

Allowing for no semantic latitude, avoiding root-etymologies as much 
as possible, excluding all onomatopaeic forms and establishing 
consistent phonetic correspondences with langauges A, B, C and their 
common "ancestor", we obtain these match ups with the isolated 
language X:
 33 correspondences with Language A + 7 personal names
 25 correspondences with Language B + 3 personal names
 80 correspondences with Language C
[All correspondences inconsistent with the established phonetic laws 
have been excluded.]
Semantically, the correspondences are grouped as follows:
Body parts: 17
Age and Family Relations: 10
Agriculture and Sheep Farming: 7
Clothing and Objects of Special Use: 10
Form and Quality of Matter 3
Foods: 6
Natural Phenomena and Geography: 14
Names of Plants (very specific correspondence in meaning&form): 11
Mythology: 4
Psychological Features: 8
Basic Adjectives: 8
Adverbs: 4
Basic Verbs: 40 etc.
[Forty of these words correspond to the basic 100 word list used in 
glotochronological studies.]

The question is whether such a large number of correspondences, which 
follow consistently phonetic laws, can be ascribed to pure chance, 
especially as there are some 16-20 correspondences at the 
derivational and grammatical plane that follow the same pattern of 
correspondence with phenomena characteristic of Lang A, B and C.
I would appreciate any discussion on the mathematical probabilities 
and the linguistic results.

A final related question - why is it that we accept that some IE
groups, as eg Slavic underwent a period of stability over 2000 years
(see Shevelov(1964) A Prehistory of Slavic (pp. 606-607) who indicates
a period of stability from ca. 1500-600BC, minor mutations in 6th-5th
centuries BC and a second period of stability from 5th century BC to
5th century AD) in its historical development (and generally did not
undergo major differentiation), but for any modern isolated languages
we are not able to accept a period of stability, thereby never
conceding that their ancient layer(s) of original words or loanwords
may not have changed much.
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