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Review of  Shared Grammaticalization

Reviewer: Mihaela Topor
Book Title: Shared Grammaticalization
Book Author: Martine Irma Robbeets Hubert Cuyckens
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Issue Number: 24.3268

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This is a book on shared grammaticalization (SG), a process in which “two or more languages have the source and the target of a grammaticalized process in common” (p. 1). The fifteen papers collected in this volume were presented at the symposium “Shared grammaticalization in the Transeurasian languages”, organized by the editors, Martine Robbeets and Hubert Cuyckens at the University of Leuven, Belgium, on September 21-23, 2011.

The intention of the authors is to determine the historical factors that activate the process of SG, while focusing on the Transeurasian languages, as these languages “share specific ways of creating grammatical markers” (p. 2) that could explain their historical connections. The five linguistic families included under the label ‘Transeurasian’ are the Japonic, Koreanic, Tungusic, Mongolic and Turkic.

The book is divided into four parts. In the first part, typological aspects of SG in different types of languages are discussed. Part II contains articles on examples of SG that occur in languages pertaining to Transeurasian families. Part III focuses on the cases of grammaticalization shared exclusively by the Turkic, Mongolic and Tungusic languages. Finally, Part IV contains papers that look into SG in Japanese and Korean.

In Chapter 1, “Towards a typology of shared grammaticalization”, the editors, Martine Robbeets and Hubert Cuyckens, offer an overview of the different types of SG: 1. ‘SG resulting from universal principles of grammatical change’ is likely to occur in languages that have no geographical or genealogical connection; 2. ‘SG through language contact’ consists of copying grammaticalized meanings from a language called the ‘model code’ into another language called the ‘basic code’; 3. ‘SG through language contact reinforced by coincidence in form’ involves both language contact and coincidence in form, that is, the phonetic similarity between a morpheme of the model code and a morpheme in the basic code leads to the copying of grammaticalized meaning from the former to the latter; 4. ‘SG through common ancestorship’ means that “the same grammaticalization process occurred independently in each of the daughter languages under influence of their common origin” (p. 10).

Chapter 2, “Areal diffusion and parallelism in drift”, by Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald, investigates the phenomenon of contact-induced grammaticalization and parallelism in drift. For both aspects, examples from languages in the Middle Sepik area of Papua New Guinea, on the one hand, and Northwest Amazonia, on the other, are given. As far as contact-induced grammaticalization is concerned, the contact of Manambu, a Ndu language, with Kuoma, an unrelated language, led to the development in the former of structures existing in the latter. The areal diffusion in Northwest Amazonia is exemplified by the case of Tariana, a language from the Wapuí subgroup of the Arawak languages which, under the influence of the unrelated East Tucanoan languages, developed structures that don’t exist in any of the other languages pertaining to the Wapuí subgroup. Regarding parallelism in drift, the author mentions the development of directional markers on verbs in both Manambu and Ambulas/Wosera (another language from the Ndu family), despite the fact that both languages are geographically apart. Parallelism in drift in Arawak languages is brought into the forefront by mentioning the development of serial verb constructions in Tariana and Piapoco, the latter of which belongs to the same linguistic family as the former.

In Chapter 3, “Demystifying drift”, Brian D. Joseph focuses on drift, a concept of Sapir’s (1921) that explains the coexistence in related languages of identic categories or linguistic changes that are not due to contact nor considered the result of parallel development. With case studies from Germanic and Indo-Iranian languages, the author argues that Sapir’s concept of drift can be supported by saying that variation took place in the proto-language. For instance, the explanation for the voicing of fricatives in some Germanic languages is due to a phenomenon of voicing that developed in Proto-Germanic.

In Chapter 4, “Contact-induced replication”, Bernd Heine and Motoki Nomachi concern themselves with how to identify, in unrelated languages, instances of grammatical replication, which is a process whereby speakers create a new meaning or structure in language B based on the model of language A, while using existing resources in the former language. In order to achieve their purpose, the authors propose different criteria and give many examples from typologically different languages. In addition, the authors attempt to answer questions regarding whether the linguistic transfer took place from language A to B, from B to A, or from C to both A and B.

In Chapter 5, “Isomorphic processes”, Lars Johanson analyzes the copying of grammatical elements from one language (i.e. ‘Model code’) to another (i.e. ‘Basic code’). The author states that, in the process of code-copying, instances of semantic, combinational and frequential properties can be copied either separately or as a block. The elements that may constitute targets of copying are lexical and grammatical elements. The example given by the author is that of dual markers in Melanesian that are copied by speakers of Tayo in the morpheme –de (‘two’). As for the grammaticalization process, per se, it is emphasized that this process is not copiable. What can be copied is just a certain stage of the grammaticalization process that takes place in the Model code. In the last part of the article, Johanson deals with the concept of ‘inheritance’, which explains why some languages share grammatical markers. The most noteworthy example of inheritance is the case of future markers based on the verb ‘have’ in Romance languages.

Volker Gast and Johan van der Auwera’s Chapter 6, “Scalar and additive operators in Transeurasian languages”, delves into scalar additive operators (SAO), as compared to the same category in European languages. This article represents a necessary contribution to the scarce amount of studies regarding SAO in non-European languages. One of the differences between both linguistic families is that SAO are an idiosyncratic category in Transeurasian languages. Another difference is that in European languages, SAO are categorized according to the context in which they appear, i.e., ‘upward entailing contexts’ and ‘downward entailing contexts’, while in Transeurasian languages, there are ‘close-internal scope’ and ‘close-external scope’ operators. What SAO in both types of languages have in common is the fact that they cannot receive stress, as this feature falls on the focus of the sentence.

Martine Robbeets’ aim in Chapter 7, “Genealogically motivated grammaticalization”, is to show that grammaticalization theory may help establish genealogic relationships between languages. The author starts by classifying the different types of SG into: 1. ‘globally shared grammaticalization’; and 2. ‘selectively shared grammaticalization’, or “cases in which the source and the target of a grammaticalization process are shared in addition to form” (pp. 148-149), are included under the first type (i.e. inherited polysemy, Sapirian drift), and those cases that do not share formal correlation are included under the second type (i.e. SG through universal principles, SG through contact and SG through contact reinforced by coincidence). The author continues by establishing seven criteria meant to identify genealogically motivated cases of SG. Criterion 1, globally shared grammaticalization, is indispensible, whereas the others are not; rather, they are either supposed to show that grammaticalization has not taken place as a consequence of universal principles (criteria 2-3), or they are meant to prove that grammaticalization is not due to contact (criteria 4-7). The data chosen by the author to prove genealogical relatedness are verb suffixes from Transeurasian languages. Since four of the criteria applied to these data are fulfilled, and three are partially fulfilled, it is concluded that the verb suffixes taken into account do make a case for genealogic relatedness between Transeurasian languages.

Andrej Malchukov’s study on the “Verbalization and insubordination in Siberian languages”, described in Chapter 8, complements previous research on the phenomena, such as Robbeets’ article on insubordination in Macro-Altaic languages (Robbeets 2009). Malchukov analyzes the phenomena of ‘insubordination’ and ‘verbalization’ in Tungusic and Paleosiberian languages. The former is the process whereby a subordinate clause starts to be used as an independent clause, whereas the latter consists of reanalyzing a nominal predicate as a verbal predicate. As far as the process of insubordination is concerned, Malchukov demonstrates that it is typical for Tungusic languages and, as a consequence, in these languages, a Verb-Noun continuum is attested. That is to say, verbs and nouns can be situated on either end of a cline and, as one moves along this cline, it can be seen that verbs gradually lose some of their properties and start behaving like nouns. As a consequence, participles are very versatile forms, as they can be used as attributives, object complements or finite verbs. Despite the significant typological differences between Paleosiberian languages, the Verb-Noun continuum is typical for these languages too. For example, one can find cases of insubordination in Ket, where verbal nouns taking possessive agreement can be used as predicates. Regarding verbalization, this process has been attested in Paleosiberian languages such as Yukaghir and Nivkh, where finite forms have been replaced by participial forms or deverbal nouns. The presence of the two phenomena in genetically unrelated languages is seen by the author “as a (macro-)areal pattern in these languages” (p. 202).

In Chapter 9, titled “Personal pronouns in Core Altaic”, the author, Juha Janhunen, illustrates the similarities between the personal pronoun system in language families such as Turkic, Mongolic, and Tungusic. The pronominal system of these languages is known as an M-T system, as the first-person personal pronoun begins with a labial nasal (m) and the second-person personal pronoun begins with a dental stop (t). After rejecting the existence of a common proto-language, a theory defended by Ramstedt (1952:68-71), and a genetic relationship between the language families mentioned above, the only plausible explanation for the similarities is areal interaction. The phonetic similarity between the second-person pronoun in some of the languages in the Mongolic family and the second-person pronoun in languages of the Tungusic family is due to intergroup language interaction.

In Chapter 10, “Postposed indefinite articles in Mongolic and Turkic languages of the Qinghai-Gansu Sprachbund”, Hans Nugteren points out the development of postposed indefinite articles in Salar, a Turkic language, and the Monggul, Manggghuer, Baoan and Kanjia from the Mongolic branch of languages. Then, he aims to show how the mentioned articles are used. As for the first aspect, according to Heine and Kuteva (2002: 220-221), the origin of the indefinite article should be sought out in the numeral ‘one’. Regarding functions, the author mentions: 1. the use of the article with nouns with both marked and unmarked cases; 2. its ability to simultaneously express accusativity, indefinitiness and singularity; or 3. its combination with numerals and uncountable nouns. One of the most surprising uses is that in which the article is combined with possessive articles, as in the Italian ‘un amico mio’ (‘a friend of mine’), which is a combination found in a very limited number of sentences in Monguor languages. Since these functions, among others, can be found equally in the Tibetan indefinite article, the author concludes that the postposed indefinite article in Mongolic and Turkic must have developed under the influence of the former.

In Chapter 11, “Growing apart in shared grammaticalization”, Éva Á. Csató studies the case of the Turkic indirective, which is a grammatical category denoting that “a narrated event En is not stated directly, but in an indirect way” (Johanson 2003: 274). It is affirmed that the source of grammaticalization of indirectives is post-terminal categories, that is to say, categories that indicate that the action expressed by a verb is envisaged “at a point where its relevant limit is transgressed” (p. 254). Depending on the moment of the action to which the focus of attention is directed, post-terminals can be high-focal or low-focal. Another aspect dealt with in this article is the renewal of high-focal categories, which is a process attributed to the tendency in Turkic, and in many other languages, of high-focal items developing into low-focal items. The result of this process is that central Turkic languages developed a new high-focal post-terminal, while languages spoken on the western and eastern periphery maintained the system based on the particles –miš and –bit, respectively.

Chapter 12, “Incipient grammaticalization of a redundant purpose clause marker in Lamunskin Ėven”, by Brigitte Pakendorf, looks at the purpose clause marker containing a redundant generic verb of speech (SAY) that developed in Lamunskin, a dialect of the Tungusic language Ėven. The author sheds light on whether this marker appeared through contact with a Turkic language, Sakha, which contains the same purpose clause marker, or if it is an independent innovation of Lamunskin. The second hypothesis is ruled out on the basis that there is no similar structure in other Ėven dialects. Another strong argument which supports the hypothesis of contact is the fact that Sakha uses different types of purpose clause constructions, and Lamunskin speakers have copied only the structure containing the elements for which there are equivalents in their own language. As for the incipient state of grammaticalization, it is justified using the fact that the Lamunskin dialect is in the process of extending the structure to other contexts; while the SAY-marked purpose clause in Sakha is restricted to third-person purpose clauses, in Lamunskin Ėven, it started to be used with first-person clauses too.

In Chapter 13, “Grammaticalization of space in Korean and Japanese”, Heiko Narrog and Seongha Rhee compare the evolution of particles in the noun phrase, relational nouns, postpositional verbs and demonstratives into grammatical categories related to space. As far as particles in the noun phrase are concerned, the authors report that Korean has a higher number of particles that mark the noun case. In addition, it is far easier to establish the etymologies of these particles in Korean than in Japanese, which suggests that the Korean particle system might be younger than the Japanese system. Regarding relational nouns that indicate space, both languages developed these categories from structures containing body parts combined with nouns indicating the idea of location. As for postpositional verbs (PV) (i.e. verbs that express abstract meaning, but originated from concrete meaning, usually related to space), the difference is that in Korean, some of the PV have further grammaticalized into particles which have adposition functions too. Thus, the grammaticalization of the PV is higher in Korean than in Japanese. The authors conclude that the structures resulting from the grammaticalization process are very similar in both languages. Nonetheless, the different lexical sources from which the PV and the relational nouns originated led to the conclusion that these categories developed more recently and that there was a period when contact between the two languages stopped.

As the title of Chapter 14 suggests, “Grammaticalization of allocutivity markers in Japanese and Korean”, its author, Anton Antonov, focuses on the grammaticalization path and origin of allocutivity markers in the mentioned languages. After offering a survey of the meaning of allocutivity and the languages where one can find this category, the author moves on to show how allocutivity is marked in Japanese and Korean, from both diachronic and synchronic perspectives. In both languages, the source of allocutive markers is the auxiliary use of an ‘object-exalting verb’. In what follows, the author presents the sources from which allocutivity developed in other languages containing this category, such as Basque, Mandan and Beja, and concludes that the grammaticalization path for allocutivity in Japanese and Korean is different from the grammaticalization path attested for Basque (e.g. in Basque. the allocutive suffix derives from a dative pronoun). Finally, taking into consideration that both the source and the target of grammaticalization coincide in Japanese and Korean, it is concluded that the case of allocutive markers is a case of shared grammaticalization based neither on drift nor language contact, thus having appeared independently in the two languages.

In Chapter 15, “A possible grammaticalization in Old Japanese and its implications for the comparison of Korean and Japanese”, J. Marshall Unger describes the periphrastic construction with necessitive meaning in Korean and Japanese. This construction, called ‘double-negative necessitive’, contains two negations and is equivalent to ‘must + VERB’ in English. Korean has, in addition, a double-affirmative necessitive construction, but there is not a similar one in Japanese. This language has, instead, an auxiliary-adjective ‘be-’ used with necessity meaning. The author presents data proving that the be- auxiliary has grammaticalized from a double-affirmative construction containing a conclusive form of the verb, followed by a conditional, a copula and the adjective ‘good’. Since this construction can be found too in other Transeurasian languages, and more specifically, in Tungusic languages, different hypotheses about the relation of Korean and Japanese are formulated. From the data, it is postulated that the most reasonable explanation would be to consider Korean and Japanese as branches of a Macro-Tungusic family.


This book provides new research on grammaticalization and is thus intended for researchers in the field of grammaticalization, as studied from both a synchronic and diachronic perspectives.

The book offers information on how shared grammaticalization occurs crosslinguistically. As the bibliographical references from each chapter show, there are plenty of studies on shared grammaticalization produced by contact, however, the present volume fills a gap regarding studies of grammaticalization produced by other factors, such as universal principles or common ancestry. Even though the amount of papers focusing on contact-induced grammaticalization (9) is heavy, there seems to be a balance between the amount of papers that deal with grammaticalization produced by universal principles (5), by language contact and coincidence in form (2), and by common ancestry (4).

The volume stands out because of the vast amount of empirical data gathered and presented, not only from the Transeurasian languages, but from European and Amazonian languages as well. Additionally, many different linguistic areas are represented within the volume: morphology (articles, verbs, personal pronouns, allocutivity markers), lexicology (suffixes and prefixes), semantics (scalar additive operators), phonology (fricatives, voicing) and syntax (insubordination).

The distribution of papers is coherent, as it follows the criterion of the typological aspects entailed by grammaticalization in Part I, and the criterion of language family in Parts II-IV.

The methodology and theoretical aspects brought into light are of great value for those researchers who wish to start or continue their own research in the field of grammaticalization, regardless of the languages or linguistic categories in question.


Heine, Bernd and Kuteva, Tania. 2002. World Lexicon of Grammaticalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Johanson, Lars. 2003. “Evidentiality in Turkic”. In Studies in Evidentiality [Typological Studies in Language 54], Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald & R. M. W. Dixon (eds.), 273-290. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Ramstedt, Gustaf J. 1952. Einführung in die altaische Sprachwissenschaft. II: Formenlehre [Mémoires de la Société Finno-Ougrienne104 (2)], bearbeitet und herausgegeben von Pentti Aalto. Helsinki:Suomalais-Ugrilainen Seura.

Robbeets, Martine. 2009. “Insubordination in Altaic.” Journal of Philology 31. Ural-Altaic Studies 1: 61-79.

Sapir, Edward .1921. Language. An introduction to the Study of Speech. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.
Mihaela Topor is a professor of Spanish language and Literature. She received a PhD in Linguistics from the University of Lleida, Spain, in 2011, with a dissertation on the verbal periphrases in Spanish and Romanian –Perífrasis verbales del español y rumano. Un estudio contrastivo. She has written several articles on the grammaticalization of verbal periphrases in Spanish and Romanian, on modality and aspectuality.