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Review of  Lexicalization and Language Change

Reviewer: Richard Jason Whitt
Book Title: Lexicalization and Language Change
Book Author: Laurel J. Brinton Elizabeth Closs Traugott
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 18.1249

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AUTHORS: Brinton, Laurel J. and Elizabeth Closs Traugott
TITLE: Lexicalization and Language Change
SERIES: Research Surveys in Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
YEAR: 2005

Richard J. Whitt, Department of German, The University of California at

The last three decades have witnessed a tremendous amount of research on
grammaticalization, i.e. how previously non-grammatical linguistic items
enter the grammar of a language, or how already grammatical elements become
''more'' grammatical (see Hopper and Traugott 2003 for a general
introduction). Sadly, far less attention has been paid to lexicalization
-- the entry of lexical items into a language's lexicon. The scholarship
on grammaticalization and lexicalization has been far from unified; myriad
approaches abound, and there are even contradictory suggestions in the
literature. Brinton and Traugott (hereafter B/T) have attempted to address
this state of affairs in their ''Lexicalization and Language Change,'' in
which they suggest unified definitions of grammaticalization and
lexicalization, and then propose an integrated approach to both phenomena
of language change.


B/T present us with an historical overview of the subject matter in Chapter
1, ''Theoretical contexts for the study of lexicalization and
grammaticalization.'' They take a functional-typological, as opposed to a
generative, approach to integrating the study of grammaticalization and
lexicalization. After a brief overview of historical linguistics, the
authors discuss matters related to the lexicon, which include the nature of
lexical items, the problems one confronts when attempting to define a
lexical or grammatical category, the notion of gradience, and productivity
(type frequency vs. token frequency). Next the authors provide us with the
synchronic and diachronic issues related to lexicalization and
grammaticalization. Conceptual representations and syntax are relevant to
the synchronic study of lexicalization, while how items enter the lexicon
is pertinent to diachronic study.

Regarding grammaticalization, B/T first address the criticisms of the
detractors of grammaticalization research (i.e. Newmeyer 1998, Campbell
2001), and then proceed to discuss the more grammatical contexts of lexical
items, e.g. the status of English 'like.' The authors conclude the chapter
with a survey of issues relevant to the diachronic study of
grammaticalization: decategorialization, gradualness, fusion and
coalescence, typological generality, metaphorization and metonymization,
subjectification, bleaching, and frequency.

In Chapter 2, ''Lexicalization: Definitions and viewpoints,'' B/T provide a
survey of the research on lexicalization. Three general definitions of
lexicalization are given: ordinary processes of word formation; processes
of fusion resulting in a decrease in compositionality; and processes of
separation resulting in an increase in autonomy. In an examination of
ordinary processes of word formation, the authors discuss a wide range of
phenomena including compounding, derivation, blending, back formation, and
loan translation (much of their discussion is based on Bauer 1983).
Institutionalization is also given some attention. B/T look at the notion
of ''lexicalization as fusion'' next and included in their overview are
demorphologization and phonogenesis, as well as idiomaticization and
demotivation. They wrap up the chapter with an examination of
''lexicalization as increase in autonomy,'' in which they focus on
cliticization and decliticization.

B/T discuss ''Views on the relation of lexicalization to grammaticalization''
in Chapter 3. They begin by looking at cases of language change that some
consider lexicalization, but others consider grammaticalization (for
example, 'today' from Old English to + dæge 'at day-DAT'). These phenomena
often involve fusion or coalescence. Unidirectionality is discussed next,
and then B/T examine differing views on degrammaticalization and its
relationship to lexicalization (i.e. whether the former is part of the
latter or not). An examination of derivation and inflection concludes the

The authors propose ''an integrated approach to lexicalization and
grammaticalization'' in Chapter 4. They note that both phenomena involve
new form-meaning pairs entering into a language's inventory and assume a
model of grammar that is ''dynamic, allows for constructions, gradience, and
degrees of productivity'' (91). They also note the importance of
productivity to both lexicalization and grammaticalization. B/T suggest
that a continuum between fully grammatical (productive) and fully lexical
(nonproductive) items exists, and postulate three degrees each for
grammaticality and lexicality: G3 (fully grammatical; affixes that affect
grammatical class) <> G2 (semi-bound forms) <> G1 (periphrases) <> L1
(partially fixed phrases) <> L2 (complex semi-idiosyncratic forms) <> L3
(fully lexical; simplexes and maximally idiosyncratic forms).

B/T continue by revisiting definitions of lexicalization and
grammaticalization. After surveying existing viewpoints, the authors
suggest an integrated definition lexicalization: ''...the change whereby in
certain linguistic contexts speakers use a syntactic construction or word
formation as a new contentful form with formal and semantic properties that
are not completely derivable or predictable from the constituents of the
construction or the word formation pattern. Over time there may be further
loss of internal constituency and the item may become more lexical'' (96).
They do the same for grammaticalization, which they define as ''the change
whereby in certain linguistic contexts speakers use parts of a construction
with a grammatical function. Over time the resulting grammatical item may
become more grammatical by acquiring more grammatical functions and
expanding its host-classes'' (99). Some attention is given to how these
processes may be reversed, i.e. delexicalization/antilexicalization and
degrammaticalization/antigrammaticalization. B/T conclude Chapter 4 by
discussing some of the parallels between lexicalization and
grammaticalization (metaphorization and metonymization, for example), as
well as phenomena exclusive to grammaticalization (such as bleaching and

In Chapter 5, B/T present us with a number of case studies (all from
English) in which the roles of lexicalization and/or grammaticalization are
relevant. The authors examine the evolution of the present participle,
multi-word verbs ('nod off,' 'calm down'), compositive predicates ('give a
response,' 'have a try'), adverbs formed with –ly, and discourse markers.
With the composite predicates, for example, lexicalization occurs when a
verb—consider 'lose' in 'lose sight of,' for example—becomes nonproductive,
has a fixed form, falls outside the productive rules of grammar, and is
idiomaticized. On the other hand, when ''light'' verbs ('make,' 'take,'
'give,' 'have,' 'do') are involved in the formation of composite
predicates, aspectual meaning emerges, as can be seen with 'take a look'
versus 'look'. Here, grammaticalization is involved.

Chapter 6 concludes ''Lexicalization and Language Change,'' and after B/T
summarize the previous five chapters, they pose questions that need to be
addressed by future research. They consider possible and impossible
changes in language, pointing out the difficulty with lexicalization
because of its idiosyncratic nature, as well as problems involved in
distinguishing between derivational and inflectional morphology. Questions
related to category transitions are also posed, with attention being given
to gradience and gradualness. Typological shifts are also addressed. In
the section on discourse types, B/T advocate the use of corpora for
linguistic research, and note the issues related to text types and genre
when working with historical sources. Finally, questions related to the
role of language contact in language change are posed.


B/T's ''Lexicalization and Language Change'' is a much welcome addition to
the scholarship on grammaticalization and lexicalization. It is a great
sourcebook in which the authors mention all significant scholarship in the
area and point out all the different approaches of the previous three
decades. And, their integrated approach to these two phenomena of language
change is elegant and appealing. This book is certainly a must-read for
anyone interested in lexicalization and grammaticalization because the
authors cover the relevant issues in a short space. Brinton and Traugott's
work is also a great teaching resource -- especially for English
linguistics -- because the authors provide straightforward definitions and
many examples.

A few minor criticisms are also in order. For one, although B/T provide
ample examples throughout the book, the majority of these examples come
from English. Since lexicalization and grammaticalization appear to be
universal phenomena (cf. Bybee, Perkins, and Pagliuca 1994), a broader
sampling of languages would have been nice. To their credit, Brinton and
Traugott mention in the Preface that they have focused on English ''for
reasons of time and resources'' (x). Also, generativists have been giving
grammaticalization quite a bit of attention recently (see, for example,
Roberts and Roussou 2003 or van Gelderen 2004), and although the authors
give the generativist approach some attention (such as in the discussion of
unidirectionality, pp. 69-74), it would have been nice to see a little more
of how generativists might address certain problem areas mentioned by B/T.
In the case studies of Chapter 5, for example, a generativist analysis
might have been suggested alongside the functionalist solutions provided by
the authors. But again to their credit, B/T mention early on that they
take a functionalist-typological approach, so the relative absence of the
generativist approach is not unexpected nor necessarily unwarranted.

Aside from any minor shortcomings their work might have, B/T's
''Lexicalization and Language Change'' is a worthy addition to the research
on lexicalization and grammaticalization, and anyone interested in these
phenomena should consider reading it.


Bauer, Laurie. 1983. English Word Formation. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.

Bybee, Joan L., Revere Perkins, and William Pagliuca. 1994. The Evolution
of Grammar: Tense, Aspect, and Modality in the Languages of the World.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Campbell, Lyle. 2001. ''What's wrong with grammaticalization?'' In
''Grammaticalization: A critical assessment.'' Ed. Lyle Campbell. Language
Sciences 23:2-3, 113-161.

Gelderen, Elly van. 2004. Grammaticalization as Economy. Amsterdam:
John Benjamins.

Hopper, Paul J. and Elizabeth Closs Traugott. 2003. Grammaticalization.
2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Newmeyer, Frederick J. 1998. Language Form and Language Function.
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Roberts, Ian G. and Anna Roussou. 2003. Syntactic Change: A Minimalist
Approach to Grammaticalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Richard J. Whitt is a doctoral candidate in Germanic Linguistics at the
University of California at Berkeley. He is currently working on his
dissertation on evidentiality and perception verbs in English and German.
His research interests include semantics, pragmatics, syntax, historical
linguistics, and cognitive linguistics.

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