Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login
amazon logo
More Info

New from Oxford University Press!


Oxford Handbook of Corpus Phonology

Edited by Jacques Durand, Ulrike Gut, and Gjert Kristoffersen

Offers the first detailed examination of corpus phonology and serves as a practical guide for researchers interested in compiling or using phonological corpora

New from Cambridge University Press!


The Languages of the Jews: A Sociolinguistic History

By Bernard Spolsky

A vivid commentary on Jewish survival and Jewish speech communities that will be enjoyed by the general reader, and is essential reading for students and researchers interested in the study of Middle Eastern languages, Jewish studies, and sociolinguistics.

New from Brill!


Indo-European Linguistics

New Open Access journal on Indo-European Linguistics is now available!

Email this page
E-mail this page

Review of  Grammatical Change and Linguistic Theory

Reviewer: Aroldo Leal de Andrade
Book Title: Grammatical Change and Linguistic Theory
Book Author: Thórhallur Eythórsson
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Book Announcement: 20.2246

Discuss this Review
Help on Posting
EDITOR: Eythórsson, Thórhallur
TITLE: Grammatical Change and Linguistic Theory
SUBTITLE: The Rosendal Papers
SERIES: Linguistik Aktuell / Linguistics Today
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2008

Aroldo L. Andrade, Department of Linguistics, State University of Campinas

This book includes a collection of papers originally presented at the symposium
''Linguistic Theory and Grammatical Change'' held at Rosendal, Norway, in 2005,
under the aegis of The Centre for Advanced Study (CAS) at the Norwegian Academy
of Science and Letters, Oslo. The papers discuss internal factors in grammatical
change from different theoretical perspectives. It gives a detailed picture of
some of the most recent and overwhelming trends in Historical Linguistics.

The book is divided into fifteen chapters, organized in alphabetical order by
author. In the introduction, the editor presents the following main topics
covered in the book: (i) theoretical and empirical perspectives on
grammaticalization, including chapters 1, 2, 7 and 8, which are either critical
of classical Grammaticalization Theory or relate it to a formal account; (ii)
case studies on grammaticalization, including chapters 4, 9, 10, 13, 14 and 15,
which, while focusing on changes in specific languages, discuss the theoretical
implications they present for the attainment of descriptive (and explanatory)
adequacy; (iii) chapters 3, 5 and 6, which explore endogenous and exogenous
motivations for syntactic change as well as evidence for identifying instances
of change; and (iv) chapters 11 and 12, which inquire into a hypothesis
according to which morphological change can occur ''by itself''. Keeping these
main topics in mind, I present a brief summary of the contents of each chapter,
in the order shown in the book.

Chapter 1, ''Grammaticalization in a speaker-oriented theory of change'' by
Henning Andersen, expresses the need to distinguish various levels of change and
to qualify grammaticalization either as a type and or as a token. This permits
one to account for partial instances of actualization of the cline and to set
apart a change from lexical to grammatical category (grammation) or between
grammatical categories (regrammation), among other change typologies proposed.
The author shows that, while reanalysis is the main source of innovation,
markedness and iconicity drive its direction, so that drift follows a structural
order. This said, in order to understand the way language patterns are passed
among individuals one must be open to recognize peculiarities not foreseen by
overwhelming theories.

Chapter 2 by John Ole Askedal is entitled '''Degrammaticalization' versus
typology: Reflections on a strained relationship'' and pursues the idea according
to which the grammaticalization cline is too general to capture the more
specific categorical aspects of grammatical processes. Haspelmath's (2004) eight
alleged instances of attested degrammaticalization are assessed in terms of
Schlegel's (1971[1818]) classical synthetic-analytic distinction. The main
assumption is that difference or equivalence of grammatical level must be based
in abstract functional terms in accordance with typological properties of the
language, not in the cline, especially if the relevant change points to the
stages that involve change in the morphophonological status of a lexical item.
Some of the changes discussed did show some kind of backward development but
together with a functional split, i.e., the survival of the erstwhile lexical
entry alongside the 'degrammaticalized' element. In a nutshell, the
unidirectionality principle is strengthened under a new frame.

In Chapter 3, Theresa Biberauer and Ian Roberts put forward the idea that
syntactic change can result either from changes in other aspects of grammar or
from other syntactic changes recursively, which gives the illusion of a
typological drift in the sense of Sapir (1921). ''Cascading parameter changes:
Internally-driven change in Middle and Early Modern English'' is therefore a
paper on a series of changes with a focus on word order. Sharing the basic
assumptions of the Minimalist Program, it is argued that Old English had the
option of stranding or pied-piping VP- and vP-internal material at the v and T
levels for satisfaction of EPP-features. Pied-piping was lost first at the VP
level due to a decrease in unambiguous triggering evidence, and at the T level
as a result of the increase in the number of VO orders in the Primary Linguistic
Data. Subsequent changes consisted in the loss of Verb Second (V2), the
development of lexical Tense, the loss of V-to-T movement, the development of
negative auxiliaries (owing also to the effect of contraction of negation) and
the development of 'do'-support. Thus the proposal gives support to Keenan's
(2002) Inertia Principle and the functionalist notion of drift is brought to
formal terms.

Chapter 4, ''The rise and development of analytic perfects in Italo-Romance'', by
Michela Cennamo, relates the interaction of the disruption of grammatical voice
and the loss of a clear notion of grammatical relation in Latin with the
creation of context for the rise of 'esse' and 'habere' as perfective
auxiliaries, as a tool to mark transitive subject (A) / Object (O) status and,
by the 7th century onwards, also unaccusatives and unergatives together with
past participle agreement. The reflexes of this latter use in Old Neapolitan and
in contemporary Campanian varieties are analyzed. While in the former HAVE has
gradually invaded the functional domains of BE, the latter shows the opposite
phenomenon. These changes are respectively related to the rise of a
nominative-accusative and of an active-inactive system, following paths and
implicational sequences consistent with a gradient model of split intransitivity
(in the line of Sorace 2000) and reflecting the more general principle of

In Chapter 5 (''Raising patterns in Old High German'') Ulrike Demske provides
evidence that subject raising patterns with German verbs such as 'dünken' and
'scheinen' are well attested in Old High German, contrary to the received wisdom
that they only subcategorized for NP and AP complements. After reviewing the
properties of raising constructions and analyzing their connections with
different classes of infinitival complementation, it is shown that both
subject-to-subject and object-to-subject raising occurred optionally. With
respect to the classes of infinitives, it does not seem possible to draw a
correlation with the distinction between coherent and incoherent predicates, so
a mono-clausal structure is proposed in order to allow for subject raising as
well as pronoun fronting, Third Constructions (in which the non-finite verb
follow the matrix verb, taken as a kind of coherent infinitival) and
topicalization, in terms of a VP structure, including cases with extraposition
of the embedded verb and its complements. In conclusion, it is proposed that
only with an increase in the auxiliarization process does the distinctive
behavior of the mentioned classes of infinitival complement predicates come to

Chapter 6, ''The New Passive in Icelandic really is a passive'', by Thórhallur
Eythórsson, analyzes a change in progress, the so-called New Passive in
Icelandic, which he contends really is a passive without NP-movement but with
structural accusative case assignment. Since the standard account by Maling &
Sigurjónsdóttir (2002) proposes that the construction should be identified with
an impersonal active, Eythórsson analyzes each of the arguments put forward by
the authors. He contends that the passive analysis has parallels in Norwegian
and Faroese, and is directly comparable to the –no/to- construction in
Ukrainian, which also shows accusative although there is no external argument
(pace Burzio's Generalization), due to a parametric variation [+/- accusative]
in a functional head F taking a VP complement. Finally, it is argued that the
construction emerged from the canonical passive through reanalysis involving
cases where both these constructions are indistinguishable.

In Chapter 7, ''A mentalist interpretation of grammaticalization theory'', Jan
Terje Faarlund tackles the problem of accounting for grammaticalization in a
speaker-related theory. For him, this is not a true theory in the sense that it
has no explanatory value, although the descriptive phenomena it refers to are
correct. Adopting van Gelderen's (2004) account of grammaticalization in a
formal generativist perspective, Faarlund considers the following initial
premise of Universal Grammar: ''there are words; and words have meaning'' and the
null hypothesis: ''a string is a word with lexical content''. The predominant
directionality of change is accounted for considering that, in the process of
segmentation taking place in the acquisitional stages, morpheme boundaries may
not be assigned as in the adults' grammar, with a tendency for omission.
Examples of this process are offered in Norwegian and in Zoque, a Meso-American
language, with special attention to the phenomenon of 'trapped morphemes', as in
the case of affixes that tend to be reduced or lost as a consequence of
posterior cliticization to their right.

Elly van Gelderen's chapter (8), ''Linguistic cycles and Economy Principles: The
role of Universal Grammar in language change'', reviews two economy mechanisms
proposed in a previous work in order to account for grammaticalization in a
formal perspective: the Head Preference Principle and the Late Merge Principle.
These principles, operative in language acquisition, are not absolute, but can
be bypassed by prescription or innovation. A third is the Specifier
Incorporation Principle, phrased as ''when possible, be a specifier rather than
an adjunct''. Three linguistic cycles in which the principles mentioned are
operative are proposed: the negative cycle, the aspect cycle and the CP cycle,
with examples from Scandinavian, Germanic and Finno-Ugric languages.

In chapter 9, ''Explaining exuberant agreement'', Alice C. Harris aims to describe
and unveil the origins of exuberant agreement in languages of the
Nakh-Dagestanian family. The term 'exuberant agreement' refers to multiple
agreement marking with a single argument. The origin of the morphemes is
attributed to the grammaticalization of light verbs, pronouns or preverbs, and
as a result of verb compounding. In order to explain the retention of trapped
morphemes, Harris proposes that, in the process of language acquisition, the
child learns that an interior inflection realized by a class marker is unmarked
for the language; in a functional view, this may be due to its potential
distinguishing feature as a lexeme. The rarity of the phenomenon is explained by
the probability of a language combining various attributes and changes. Such an
approach deals with the origin and longevity of rare phenomena without recourse
to subjective notions such as functionality or ease of acquisition.

Dag Haug discusses the semantic change from resultative to anterior, (''From
resultatives to anteriors in Ancient Greek: On the role of paradigmaticity in
semantic change'' – Chapter 10) with the assumption that, differently from
similar changes in the 'have'-perfect of Germanic and Romance, the Greek
resultative was much more influenced by paradigmatic relations, thus remaining
untouched by pragmatic inferencing exerted in syntagmatic relations, which
Traugott & Dasher's (2005) Invited Inference Theory of Semantic Change seems to
predict. On the other hand, the semantic change that has taken place in the
Greek perfect had the creation of a middle perfect tense as a conditioning
factor, which assumed the previous resultative meaning. This development took
place in the class of normal transitive verbs with theme-like objects, because
of a semantic correspondence between tenses, while morphologically the perfect
had more affinity with the present active. It is suggested that invited
inference and subjectification are more important at earlier stages of
grammaticalization, which involve semantic change of lexical items, not of
grams. This last type of change seems to be influenced by other grams expressing
related traits.

Chapter 11, ''Lexical nonsense and morphological sense: on the real importance of
'folk etymology' and related phenomena for historical linguistics'', by Martin
Maiden, advances a thesis according to which purely morphological structure
plays a role in language change, even in abstraction of semantic content.
Lexical formatives of different morphological statuses seem to be diachronically
relevant only in terms of their 'signata', meaning that they lie outside
conventional lexical or grammatical meaning. Folk etymology analyses are brought
about in order to illustrate the tendency of endowing the unfamiliar with
familiar content. With the intent of showing that lexical meaning is not
sufficient to determine the changes, Maiden goes on to show that homophonous
formatives are sometimes analyzed as lexically, but not morphologically
identical. Although synonymy is recognized as a 'smooth' strategy of change,
some cases of lexical replacement are offered in which no necessary
correspondence exists, as in the case of the reflexes of the Latin verbs DARE
and DONARE in Romance varieties, the first being linked to a number of distinct
lexemes due to its light verb status.

Ottosson's chapter 12 (''The diffusion of systemic changes through the
inflectional system: Evidence from person-number inflection in the Nordic
languages and German'') explores the systemic changes of inflectional morphology.
Once this type of study tries to identify the motivation for the constituent
changes, it does not focus on diachronic correspondences, because these may
relate two items that have undergone a chain of changes causally unrelated.The
examined data refer to internally motivated changes in Icelandic, Norwegian and
High German analyzed in terms of Wurzel's (1984) brand of Natural Morphology.
The author observes System-Defining Structural Properties of the verbal
inflection as a point of departure to establish generalizations that can be
slowed down by more specific factors for individual subdomains. For instance, in
High German one strong generalization states that person-number forms are the
same for all subparadigms regardless of tense and mood. This tendency could at
some stages be overruled by phonological changes such as umlaut, creating an
ambiguity between the second person of the past indicative and the first and
third persons of the past subjunctive, until a later stage when umlaut was
eliminated from the innovative forms.

Christer Platzack (chapter 13: ''Left Branch Extraction of nominal modifiers in
Old Scandinavian'') offers an analysis for the loss of Left Branch Extraction
(LBE) of nominal modifiers in Scandinavian. The phenomenon consists of the
possibility of dislocating a phrase from inside a Determiner Phrase. Apart from
Old Scandinavian, it exists nowadays in other languages, such as Greek and
Serbo-Croatian. The author assumes that the demise of LBE is attached to the
loss of Stylistic Fronting in embedded clauses that lack a subject in front of
the finite verb, a type of movement which remains in modern Icelandic and
Faroese. Platzack assumes, following Bošković (2005), that LBE is possible when
a Modifier Phrase is adjoined to an NP. He then postulates that a change in Noun
Phrase organization took place from Old to Modern Icelandic, in which the
Modifier Phrase changes from an adjoined element to one which dominates and
selects NP. This is in line with van Gelderen's (2004) Head Preference
Principle. A minimalist account of closeness for movement is offered together
with evidence for the proposed analysis.

Chapter 14, entitled ''On incorporation in Athapaskan languages: Aspects of
language change'', written by Keren Rice, relates the development of
incorporability of nouns in Athapaskan languages to different subject positions:
one external and another internal to the VP. Focusing on Slave and Ahtna, Rice
points out that, while the last language is more conservative, allowing some
incorporation of non-animate external subjects, the former does not show any
incorporation of subjects, which is due to a syntacticization of subjects to the
external position. The Apachean language Navajo is then exemplified as having
gone through a loss of incorporation, due to a competition between inflectional
agreement and incorporation, with retention of the first process.

In chapter 15 (''Argument marking from Latin to Modern Romance languages: An
illustration of 'combined grammaticalisation processes'''), Lene Schøsler
discusses the status of valency patterns with a focus on the way grammar enables
speakers and listeners to identify arguments. The author criticizes the
traditional functionalist account according to which the rigidification of order
has supplanted the Latin declension system in the function of identifying
arguments. First of all, Schøsler agrees with two remarks found in Pinkster
(1990): (i) that the identification of arguments is not the main function of
morphology and (ii) that valency patterns in Latin have no general semantic
motivation. This last claim practically means that constructions in the sense of
Goldberg (1995) are exceptional in Latin, but came to be used in Romance
languages as a mechanism of identification of valency patterns. This happened,
for instance, through the introduction of prepositional objects as a result of
grammaticalization of specialized patterns. Combined grammaticalization patterns
then resulted in complex functional systems of argument structure involving
lexical, morphological and analytical marking.

The collection of papers comprised in the book presents a good selection of
outstanding lines of research in the field of Historical Linguistics. This sort
of multitheoretical stance is extremely beneficial to the development of this
area of Linguistics, where the dialogue between formal and functional
perspectives is increasingly strong. Apart from this, one can observe real
interaction between the participants, reflected in cross-citation of the
chapters in the book, thanks to the initiative of the CAS. In what follows I
pinpoint some recurrent themes mentioned in the book and discuss them.

The chapters which focus on grammaticalization discuss its validity as an
explanatory theory of language change. Although no one denies the usefulness of
grammaticalization as a descriptive generalization, the need to frame it in a
more rigorous theoretical support is agreed upon by many functionalists and
formalists. Various solutions to disentangle grammaticalization from its
difficult theoretical status are offered. On the functionalist side: (i)
Anderson (chapter 1) proposes different levels and typologies of change; (ii)
Askedal (chapter 2) assumes that the morphophonological stages of the cline
should not count as criterion for improvement in functional status. On the
formalist side: (i) Biberauer & Roberts (chapter 3) assume the previous work by
Roberts & Roussou (2003) according to which the basic type of
grammaticalization involves the realization of a functional feature in a higher
category in syntax; (ii) van Gelderen (chapter 8) assumes three economy
principles operative in language acquisition. It is clear that these solutions
involve different balances between descriptive and explanatory adequacy (in the
sense of Chomsky 1965).

The traditional account of grammaticalization is not clear with respect to the
notion of function, with which it managed to obtain an allure of uniformity,
using the same cline to describe phenomena in different levels of analysis. In
fact, as the chapter by Askedal has pointed out, this hides different criteria
for assessing what is more functional. Two approaches are presented: giving a
clear definition for the relation between function and grammaticalization (and
losing sight of the morphophonological part of the cline) as Askedal does, or
breaking it up into many subcomponents (and explaining more change data) as is
the case with Anderson's paper. Just as an example of how fluid the use of the
notion of 'function' is, two chapters in the book come up with (apparently)
opposite claims: Askedal assumes that a broadening of function is expected,
while Biberauer & Roberts suggest that restriction of function is the result of
grammaticalization (cf. pages 72 and 108).

Other papers in the book are also not clear enough with respect to the role of
function in grammatical change. This is the case with Maiden's and Ottosson's
chapters (11 and 12). If lexical formatives have a psychological reality
independent of their meaning, what is the functional explanation for them? What
is the function related to the generalizations stated in terms of the
System-Defining Structural Properties? These chapters seem to imply different
ideas about function (re-)assignment in the line of Smith (2006), but the
specific contours for each case study are still to be developed.

As noticed by Faarlund (chapter 7) one of the problems with the classical
functionalist approach to change is the 'social' conception of grammars, the
fact that the notions of grammaticalization and drift must be reinterpreted in
terms of a speaker-oriented theory (see also Biberauer & Roberts's chapter 3).
When it comes to the formalist solutions, economy of operations is agreed upon,
but the specific ways to implement this idea diverge: procrastination can be
stated as Late Merge - a principle of grammar according to van Gelderen (2004
and chapter 8) – or as a change in formal features of functional heads,
according to Roberts & Roussou (2003). In any case, these proposals are
restricted to syntax, which reinforces Newmeyer's (2000) observation that
grammaticalization is an epiphenomenon, thus encompassing different phenomena
(in grammar and phonology for example) which may or may not coincide.

Apart from the connection between a theory of grammatical change and a specific
view about language, it is very interesting that some chapters in this book also
present the opposite implicational path: the observation of change in different
levels of description is also used as a point of departure to evaluate current
linguistic theories, primarily intended to describe synchronic data. This is the
case with the chapters by Maiden (11), Schøsler (15) and Haug (10). While Maiden
considers Distributed Morphology (and other separationist views of morphology)
as inadequate because they do not consider the possibility of lexical formatives
without any meaning (features) related to them, Schøsler criticizes Construction
Grammar because constructions as form/meaning pairs are not necessarily
overwhelming in all languages, but can arise to fulfill the role of valency
identification. Haug restricts the validity of Invited Inference Theory of
Semantic Change by Traugott & Dasher (2005) to the first stages of semantic
grammaticalization. The observation of these wider implications should be
pursued in further research.

Many other chapters are case studies and adopt, adapt or propose a theory of
change that better fits the data. Rice's chapter (14) incorporates
formal/structural evidence in a functionalist framework. Harris's chapter (9) is
quite theoretically independent; her proposal to use 'chance' as an explanation
for the markedness of exuberant agreement could become more informative if put
in line with other more encompassing proposals that embrace the notion of
parameter hierarchy (Baker 2005 or Roberts & Holmberg (to appear)). Other
chapters (by Eythórsson (6) and Demske (5), for example) show alternative
analyses emerging from a new look to data from one or many languages.

In sum, the book organized by Eythórsson contains many interesting studies, with
different theoretical backgrounds and implications. Certainly more than one of
the papers will be of interest to any researcher working in Historical Linguistics.

Baker, M. (2005) Mapping the Terrain of Language Learning. _Language Learning
and Development_. 1(1), 93-129.

Bošković, Z. (2005) On the locality of left branch extraction and the structure
of NP. _Studia Linguistica_ 59: 1-45.

Chomsky, Noam. (1965) _Aspects of the Theory of Syntax_. Cambridge, Mass. MIT Press.

van Gelderen, E. (2004) _Grammaticalization as Economy_. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Goldberg, A. (1995) _A Construction Grammar Approach to Argument Structure_.
Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Haspelmath, M. (2004) On directionality in language change with particular
reference to grammaticalization. In: O.S. Fischer, M. Norde & H. Perridon (eds.)
_Up and Down the Cline: The Nature of Grammaticalization_. Amsterdam and
Philadelphia: John Benjamins, p. 14-44.

Keenan, E. (2002) Explaining the creation of reflexive pronouns in English. In:
D. Minkova & R. Stockwell (eds.) _Studies in the History of English: A
Millennial Perspective_. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, p. 325-355.

Maling, J. & Sigurjónsdóttir, S.( 2002) The 'new impersonal' construction in
Icelandic. _Journal of Comparative Germanic Linguistics_ 5: 97-142.

Newmeyer, F. J. (2000) _Language Form and Language Function_. Cambridge, MA: The
MIT Press.

Pinkster, H. (1990) _Latin Syntax and Semantics_. London: Routledge.

Roberts, I. & Holmberg, A. (to appear) Introduction: Parameters in Minimalist

Roberts, I. & Roussou, A. (2003) _Syntactic Change: A Minimalist Approach to
Grammaticalization_. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sapir, E. (1921) _Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech-. New York:
Harcourt Brace.

Schlegel, A. W. (1971 [1818]) Observations sur la Langue et la Litterature
Provençales. _Neudruck der ersten Aufgabe Paris 1818 herausgegeben mit einem
Vorwort von Gunther Narr: 'August Wilhelm Schlegel – ein Wegbereiter der
Romanishen Philologie'_. Tübingen: Tübinger Beiträge zur Linguistik.

Smith, J. C. (2006) How to do things without junk: the refunctionalization of a
pronominal subsystem between Latin and Romance. In: J-P Y. Montreuil (ed) N_ew
Perspectives on Romance Linguistics: Selected Papers from the 35th Linguistic
Symposium on Romance Languages (LSRL) Austin, Texas, February 2005. Volume II:
Phonetics, Phonology and Dialectology_. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John
Benjamins, p. 183-205.

Sorace, A. (2000) Gradients in auxiliary selection with intransitive verbs.
_Language_ 76: 859-890.

Traugott, E. & Dasher, R. B. (2005) _Regularity in Semantic Change_. Cambridge: CUP.

Wurzel, W.U. (1984) _Flexionsmorphologie und Natürlichkeit_. Berlin:
Akademie-Verlag. (English translation (1989): _Inflectional morphology and
naturalness_. Dordrecht: Kluwer.)

Aroldo Andrade is currently a visiting student at the Department of Linguistics,
University of Cambridge (UK), and PhD student at State University of Campinas
(Brazil), with research focus on clitic placement in the history of Portuguese.