LINGUIST List 7.1263

Wed Sep 11 1996

Disc: Grammaticalization, Multilinguality

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. Oesten Dahl, Discussion on Grammaticalization
  2. "James L. Fidelholtz", Re: 7.1160, Disc: Multilinguality

Message 1: Discussion on Grammaticalization

Date: Thu, 05 Sep 1996 15:28:26 BST
From: Oesten Dahl <>
Subject: Discussion on Grammaticalization
It is now quite some time since I made my remarks on Fritz Newmeyer's
posting about grammaticalization, and many people have said things
about the compatibility or incompatibility of grammaticalization
theory and the Chomskyan paradigm. At this point, I would just like to
say that I agree with David Pesetsky and others that one may accept
the general Chomskyan approach without excluding the possibility of
UG-external explanations; on the other hand, I think time will show
that such explanations, in particular those having to do with
diachronic processes such as grammaticalization, cannot just play the
marginal role they have had so far in Chomskyan theory but must obtain
a central and integrated place in the theory of grammar.
 Personally, I have always found it plausible that there is a
fairly rich genetically determined component in language; I think,
however, that simply postulating a "universal grammar" in our heads
does not explain very much. As Martin Haspelmath notes, 

> Research in
>grammaticalization shows that to a large extent, the way grammars are
>structured results from the way they are shaped in diachronic
>processes of grammaticalization. 

But like some other discussants, I also am afraid of attempts to
reduce everything to a question of "language use". It is important not
to forget that in order to use a language we have to learn it, and I
think it is a challenge for any theory that the results of the
diachronic processes of grammaticalization belong to those parts of
language that pose very severe problems when we try to learn a second
language - problems that have been used as primary arguments for
postulating an innate component in grammar. Perhaps what we witness
here is the outcome of a process of "coevolution" - humans have
developed in such a way that we are (as small children) prepared to
learn precisely those structures that tend to develop
diachronically. But now I am of course just speculating...

Oesten Dahl
(Dept. of Linguistics, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden)
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Message 2: Re: 7.1160, Disc: Multilinguality

Date: Thu, 05 Sep 1996 09:41:54 MDT
From: "James L. Fidelholtz" <>
Subject: Re: 7.1160, Disc: Multilinguality
Dear list:
	This discussion has been very interesting, with useful
contributions from both professionals and amateurs. As one of each,
depending on your point of view (Ph. D. in Linguistics, long-time
resident and potzer [but near-native] learner of Spanish in Mexico),
I'd like to give some more anecdotal evidence.
	I also lived 3 years in Poland, where I could converse
fluently near the end, although I have to point out that my
understanding ability was way behind my speaking ability (after all, I
could pick my own vocabulary). (Of course, my wife would claim that
this is also true for English.)
	When I first began hanging around with my future wife, a
native Spanish speaker, we always spoke English, another of her native
languages. One day she took me home to meet her family, where they
were mostly speaking in Spanish. Unusually for me, I just sat there
listening, and was able to detect how to use the hesitation marker
'este', despite having virtually no knowledge of Spanish at that time.
So I tried to answer one of her parents in Spanish, which was of
course in typically atrocious language-learner-beginner form, except
for the communicatively adequate use of 'este', which amazed and
delighted all. The point here is that Waruno, I believe, was right--a
little intonation and a couple of well-chosen polite phrases (eg,
'prosze, pani/u' in Polish) can go a long way, if not toward an
impression of native-speakerhood, then toward an acceptance of your
	I first began using Spanish on a daily basis in Argentina, so
I deliberately modified my incipient pronunciation to the Argentine
Spanish model, thinking that, when someday my Spanish became a little
less nonnative, I would be mistaken for a native Argentine, rather
than simply a nonnative speaker. When we later moved to Mexico, I
continued this strategy, which colors my Spanish to this day.
Unfortunately, I did not realize until it was too late that, although
(especially academic) Mexicans have a lot against 'gringos',
Argentines suffer an even worse reputation among Mexicans, so that my
prescient strategy has gone for naught, or rather has had the opposite
of the intended effect.
	The moral, at least if you're like me and not a particularly
outstanding language learner (_very_ different, as has been pointed
out, from being an outstanding 'student' in general) is that it helps
a lot to be outgoing and to try to be perceptive of language use. I
suspect that this latter factor is the basis for the relative success
of the so-called 'communicative approaches' in 2nd lg learning.

James L. Fidelholtz				e-mail:
A'rea de Ciencias del Lenguaje			or:
Instituto de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades
Benemerita Universidad Autonoma de Puebla, Me'xico
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