LINGUIST List 16.923

Sat Mar 26 2005

Review: Historical Ling/Typology: Fischer et al. (2004)

Editor for this issue: Megan Zdrojkowski <>


        1.    Claus Pusch, Up and down the Cline - The Nature of Grammaticalization

Message 1: Up and down the Cline - The Nature of Grammaticalization

Date: 25-Mar-2005
From: Claus Pusch <>
Subject: Up and down the Cline - The Nature of Grammaticalization

EDITORS: Fischer, Olga; Norde, Muriel; Perridon, Harry
TITLE: Up and down the Cline
SUBTITLE: The Nature of Grammaticalization
SERIES: Typological Studies in Language
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2004
Announced at

Claus D. Pusch, Department of Romance Languages, Albert-Ludwig
University at Freiburg im Breisgau


This book contains a selection of papers originally presented at the New
Reflections on Grammaticalization II Conference organized by the volume's
editors in 2002 at Amsterdam University (Netherlands). The NRG-II
conference was a follow-up meeting to a first New Reflections on
Grammaticalization conference held at the University of Potsdam (Germany)
in 1999 (the proceedings of which are found in Wischer & Diewald eds.
2002). The third conference of this series is going to be hosted by the
University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain) in July 2005, for which,
according to one of the organizers, a tremendous number of abstracts has
been sent in, testifying the ever increasing interest in the concept of
grammaticalization and related processes in the linguistic research
community. An equally impressive indication of this interest in
grammaticalization and of the broad range of languages and subjects
studied under this perspective, is the present book which, in addition to an
introductory chapter by the editors, contains 17 contributions, four of
which focus on English, two on Romance languages, three on Finnish and
Baltic languages, one on Greek, whereas four papers discuss language facts
found in Eastern and South-Eastern Asian languages and the remaining
papers either deal with other languages or do not have a focus on a specific
language or language group.

Following the editors' introductory chapter, the volume opens with Martin
Haspelmath's paper "On directionality in language change with particular
reference to grammaticalization" in which the author maintains that the
unidirectionality hypothesis as formulated in classic work on
grammaticalization such as Lehmann (1995 [1982]) and Hopper & Traugott
(1993) continues to be valid and important in order to understand
language change in large samples of the world's languages. Haspelmath
acknowledges that there are examples contradicting an absolute reading of
the unidirectionality hypothesis but believes that unidirectionality as
a 'statistical' universal is not affected by these isolated counter-examples,
which are by far outnumbered by the cases of language change where
unidirectionality holds true. Moreover, Haspelmath considers the
phenomena described as degrammaticalization as too heterogeneous to be
covered by a unified term. He suggests a differentiated view and
terminology, considering as valid counterexample to unidirectionality only a
process "that leads from the endpoint to the starting point of a potential
grammaticalization and also shows the same intermediate stages" (p.27s).
Such cases of "antigrammaticalization", as he coins them, are extremely
rare. Other cases such as "retractions" (another term suggested by
Haspelmath), where an advanced stage of a grammaticalization chain
becomes obsolete but a still existing previous ("layered") stage survives, are
rejected by the author as counterevidence to unidirectionality.

In his paper "Rescuing traditional (historical) linguistics from
grammaticalization theory", Brian D. Joseph takes a critical stand concerning
the usefulness and methodological soundness of research on language
change carried out within the grammaticalization framework. Comparing
this research with traditional diachronic linguistics, Joseph criticizes the - as
he puts it - sometimes superficial analyses of historical stages and facts by
adepts of the grammaticalization approach, who tend to privilege cross-
linguistic, typologically-oriented generalization over the careful study of
individual cases and let themselves lead to easily to posit historical and
functional links on the mere basis of the similarity of form. For the author
this qualifies as "an ahistorical approach that often bypasses crucial
considerations needed to make historical accounts work." (p. 54)

Anette Rosenbach analyzes "The English s-genitive" and asks if it really
constitutes - as frequently claimed - "A case of degrammaticalization?". Her
answer to this question is negative insofar as the possessive 's is not
stepping back on the clitic to inflectional affix cline and therefore -
according to Rosenbach - is not an instance of antigrammaticalization as
defined in Haspelmath's contribution. Cautious examination of textual data
from Middle, early Modern and Modern English leads the author to
conclude that the development of possessive 's is connected to other
changes that have affected the English noun phrase and that the (former)
inflectional affix has acquired a new status as a definite determiner, a
process "which made POSS 's change track and leave the grammaticality
cline and become part of the newly emerging article system" (p. 87).
Therefore, what looks like degrammaticalization (or
antigrammaticalization) on the token level is, in reality, an embarking on a
new cline of change, i.e. a continuing grammaticalization on the type level.
Like Rosenbach, Martine Taeymans takes "A corpus-based approach" in
her "Investigation into the marginal modals DARE and NEED in British
present-day English", but uses frequency counts to elucidate the oscillation
of these verbs between main verb and modal status. As far as 'need' is
concerned, she arrives at the conclusion that "while NEED structurally
violates the unidirectionality hypothesis, it does not seem to show a reverse
semantic shift" (p. 111), i.e. unidirectionality is preserved on a semantic if
not on a structural level.

The idea of defining unidirectionality in grammaticalization primarily on the
semantic level instead of the levels of structure and function, is also
suggested in Debra Ziegeler's paper "Redefining unidirectionality. Is there
life after modality", where the author describes the trajectory of the
Mandarin Chinese verb 'dé' which developed from main verb to (epistemic)
modal status and lexicalized back to a main verb use. According to Ziegeler,
this development cannot count as counterevidence to semantically defined
unidirectionality: in the process, a "secondary 'split' from the continuing
main path of grammaticalisation" (p. 126) occurred but this split is in
accordance with the overall developmental cline if this cline and its
lexicalization branch are integrated into a larger 'family resemblances'
conceptual network. Although this is in discordance with a notion of
unidirectionality as a functional-categorial universal (postulating that
lexical material develops into grammatical material but not the other way
round), such a lexicalization step "does not threaten the prospect of a
unidirectional hypothesis as long as it can be maintained that semantic
change is prior to all other changes" (p. 131). This same idea of
unidirectionality being a characteristic feature of semantic change
(although not necessarily of functional change) underlies the study of
Foong Ha Yap, Stephen Matthews and Kaoru Horie, "From pronominalizer
to pragmatic marker. Implications for unidirectionality from a crosslinguistic
perspective", where the historical developmental sequences of markers in
Japanese, Chinese and Malay are found to lead uniformly from inflectional
(genitive marking) to pragmatic (stance-marking) functions but where the
diachronic ordering of the developmental steps involved turns out to be
different in each language.

The categorial change of language elements accompanied by an increasing
pragmatic (subjective) value, i.e. the conception of grammaticalization as
developed in the work of Elizabeth C. Traugott (e.g. 1995; cf. also Traugott
& Dasher 2002), constitutes the theoretical basis of Jacqueline Visconti's
contribution "Conditionals and subjectification. Implications for a theory of
semantic change". The author documents the semantic-pragmatic
motivation of the pathway of change of English 'suppose / supposing' and
some of its Romance cognates from propositional to textual to subjective
meaning, stressing that this (unproblematic) example of unidirectional
semantic change should not be understood as a 'mechanical'
or "deterministic process" (p. 187) but that the reason for the process is to
be sought in the speakers/writers' "recruitement of 'supposing' for
argumentative uses" (p. 186), which means that the driving force behind the
change is discourse-pragmatic in essence. This point of view corresponds
exactly to what Ulrich Detges, in "How cognitive is grammaticalization? The
history of the Catalan 'perfet perifràstic'", argues to be the basis for the
unexpected grammaticalization of a 'go' + infinitive periphrasis towards the
expression of an aoristic past tense in this Ibero-Romance language.
Detges interprets this instance of language change as a result of rhetorical
strategies put to use by speakers/writers who realized that this and
comparable constructions can bear a 'hot news' character which may be
exploited for the purpose of textual foregrounding. "Thus, it is not the
value of the source constructions as such which makes them eligible for
grammaticalization, but the fact that these constructions prove to be useful
for very basic communicative strategies." (p. 224) In this approach to
grammaticalization, communicative need seems more prominent than
cognition-based source determination or functional necessity; this reduced
importance accorded to functional need is also one of the conclusions of
Anastasios Tsangalidis' chapter on "Unidirectionality in the
grammaticalization of modality in Greek".

Jim Miller, in his article "Perfect and resultative constructions in spoken and
non-standard English", emphasizes that in evaluating grammaticalization
processes, diasystematic variation must be taken into account in order to
arrive at a complete and correct picture of language change. On the basis of
Scottish English data he shows that the Perfect as an aspectual-temporal
form that seems well established in the standard language is still in
competition with other past-denoting forms in non-standard data and co-
exists there with the possessive-resultative construction out of which it is
supposed to have evolved. In the same vein, Lea Laitinen, under the
heading "Grammaticalization and standardization", demonstrates how
(language-external) standardization may, on the one hand, obscure on-
going (language-internal) grammaticalization processes and, on the other,
interfere with these processes and ultimately manifest a certain impact on
the structural make-up of the language having undergone standardization.
Her examples come from Finnish, the same language that is studied by
Ilona Herlin and Lari Kotilainen who, in "External factors behind cross-
linguistic similarities", question the cognitive character of language change
phenomena which, at first sight, seem to be textbook-examples of
universal tendencies in grammaticalization-based change and advocate -
as Laitinen does - a closer look at such aspects as areal factors and
language contact.

In her contribution "What constitutes a case of grammaticalization? Evidence
from the development of copulas from demonstratives in Passamaquoddy",
Eve Ng addresses the question how in languages with a very limited written
record the fact of grammaticalization having taken place can be assessed.
At the same time, she questions to a certain extent the operability of the
criterion of categorical change, considered as a defining feature in many
approaches to grammaticalization, by showing how intricate this question
turns out to be in this Algonquian language when certain forms in verbless
clauses and their status between 'demonstrative-hood' and 'copula-hood'
have to be evaluated. Marian Klamer, in "Multi-categorial items as
underspecified lexical entries. The case of Kambera 'wàngu'", treats a
similarly problematic case in this Indonesian language and maintains that
linguistic elements involved in grammaticalization chains are necessarily
ambiguous as far as grammatical categorization is concerned, as the
different steps of this developmental chain are located within a conceptual
network organized through family resemblances (as described earlier by
Ziegeler). Structural "underspecification" of these elements within an on-
going grammaticalization process is considered by the author as a natural
result of semantic bleaching, one of the most basic characteristics of such

The problem of ambiguous functional status and multifunctionality is also
addressed in Kwok-shing Wong's paper "The acquisition of polysemous
forms. The case of 'bei2' ("give") in Cantonese". The author uses Chinese
corpus data from the CHILDES data base to explore if diachronic changes as
posited by grammaticalization research are paralleled by or reconstructable
through L1 acquisitional processes, a venture that in the case of 'bei2',
which has a main verb function but also additional, more grammatical
functions such as dative or passive marking, turns out to be feasible.
Cantonese and other isolating languages represent a certain challenge to
grammaticalization research in that concurrent processes affecting the
formal constitution of the linguistic elements which are being
grammaticalized (and which could provide for additional evidence
concerning the position on the grammaticalization chain that these
elements have attained), e.g. phonetic attrition, are less readily observable
in these languages.

However, Umberto Ansaldo and Lisa Lim, in "Phonetic absence as syntactic
prominence. Grammaticalization in isolating tonal languages", show on the
basis of examples from Cantonese and Hokkien and the results of their
phonetic analysis that phenomena of phonetic erosion are well detectable
in such languages, whereby "the erosion is primarily in terms of duration
and vowel quality." (p. 360) In the view of the authors, these findings cast
doubt on "the old adage of yesterday's syntax becoming today's
morphology as universally valid" (ibid.) but do confirm the validity of the
grammaticalization approach in the case of languages which lack
inflectional morphology, which, in the classic accounts, is considered as the
target for grammaticalizing items. These classic accounts therefore seem
too narrow; this is also one of the conclusions that Sergey Say, in the
concluding chapter of the book, "Grammaticalization of word order.
Evidence from Lithuanian", arrives at. Say analyzes the positional options of
the genitive in this Baltic language reputed to allow free word order. He
finds that a positional differentiation between referential (possession-
expressing) and non-referential (qualifying or classifying) genitives, which
was still available in Old Lithuanian, has been leveled in the modern
language, leading to a fixation of the genitive construction in preposition to
the nominal head. Again, as in Herlin and Kotilainen's paper, a possible
influence of language contact is taken into consideration, but more than
this, system-internal aspects of functional overlap with (equally preposed)
adjectives are advocated.


This book is a highly recommendable read for both supporters and critics
of the grammaticalization approach to language change. The impressive
range of languages and phenomena on all levels of linguistic structure
described and included in the volume is a reflection of the stimulating effect
and the descriptive power that grammaticalization - be it as an
elaborated 'theory' or as a heuristic principle - seems to have for current
functional linguistics. However, as will have become evident from the
synthesis of the book's contents, it is not intended as a panegyric: instead of
highlighting what grammaticalization studies have achieved up to now, the
volume's editors have preferred to take a rather critical stand to many key
notions of this theoretical approach resp. have invited the contributors to
critically examine these "seemingly unchallengeable principles" (p. 1) that
have been put forward as strong hypotheses in some of the foundational
work on grammaticalization. The editors expressly refer to the 2001 special
issue of 'Language Sciences' (Campbell (ed.) 2001), that contained a
number of critical evaluations of the validity and explanatory value of the
concept of grammaticalization. Although in the present volume, Brian D.
Joseph is the only representative of these critics to have contributed a
paper, it becomes obvious throughout the books that the contributors have
these detractors' positions in mind and that they are aiming at a debate with
them, taking up and integrating into their analyses some of their arguments
and refuting others.

As should have become obvious, the most controversial key concept and
the one that is most broadly discussed in this volume, is unidirectionality.
Although almost all the authors who mention this principle try to 'rescue' it
and conclude that it continues to be a valuable notion for describing the
specificities of grammaticalization-driven language change, the
modifications suggested for the possible domains of its application and for
the very character of the principle - as compared to early formulations such
as the one by Lehmann (1995 [1982]:19, quoted by the editors on p. 2) -
are far-reaching. In this respect, the terminological differentiation
suggested by Haspelmath between antigrammaticalization and retraction
(which obviously is not only terminological in scope but points out
important differences in the way that language change phenomena evolve
and pathways of grammatical change are followed) appears useful and

Apart from this vivid discussion of the unidirectionality hypothesis, the
book "Up and down the Cline" clearly illustrates the existence of different
currents among the practitioners of the grammaticalization approach.
These have been in existence for quite a while, with the main trends being,
on the one hand side, a more form-oriented vision of grammaticalization
which is mainly interested in the 'lexicon > grammar' resp. the 'syntax >
morphology' cline typically associated with the work of Christian Lehmann,
and, on the other, a more function-oriented approach that focuses on
the 'propositional > textual > subjective' cline as developed in the work of
Elizabeth C. Traugott. Although these perspectives on grammaticalization
are generally looked upon as complementary rather than conflictive, is goes
without saying that they imply very different approaches to the data that is
taken into account, and that they yield rather different conclusions, e.g.
concerning the importance accorded to universal cognition-based factors
in comparison with maybe equally universal, but generally more case-
specific and context-dependent discourse-pragmatic factors. This becomes
obvious in the contributions by Detges (in this volume, but also in his earlier
work) or by Visconti and points out the still inconclusive debate on the
precise relation between intersecting concepts such as grammaticalization,
lexicalization and pragmaticalization (cf., for instance, some of the
contributions in Wischer & Diewald (eds.) 2001 and in Bisang, Himmelmann
& Wiemer (eds.) 2004).

In addition to this, in the book under review there are a couple of original
proposals concerning aspects that might play a significant role in the study
of grammaticalization processes but which so far have not received the
attention they deserve. Among these aspects one should range the
importance of extra-linguistic factors such as language planning and
standardization as described in the contributions by Laitinen and Herlin /
Kotilainen, or (albeit a little less original) the consideration of areal factors
and effects of language contact and interference (cf. Heine & Kuteva 2005
with further references on this subject). Another promising direction for
further research might be the systematic analysis of suprasegmental
features of elements supposed to have undergone or to be currently
undergoing grammaticalization, as demonstrated in the contribution by
Ansaldo / Lim for tonal languages but applicable - and probably highly
significant - also in other, less phonization-dependent languages.

>From a formal / technical point of view, one has to acknowledge both the
editors' and the publisher's solid work and high level of accuracy. Although
the volume is not free of misspellings or minor layout errors (let me just
mention a few of them: on p. 79, paragraph beneath examples (6) and
(7): "the possessor head 'king(-es)'" should most probably read "the
possessor head 'devil(-es)'"; p. 85, paragraph preceding table 2: "in German
and Dutch prenominal possessives have turned into determiners but are
phrase markers" should be "but are _not_ phrase markers"; p. 330, 1st
paragraph, reference to Comrie (1989): this title is missing in the
bibliography; p. 348, paragraph preceding example (7): "the
morpheme 'gwo33' can be found suffixed to a verb as a comparative
marker" should read "suffixed to an adjective"; p. 368, example (13b.) "la
casa di pietro" should be "la case di pietra"), the number of typos and
shortcomings of this kind is remarkably low for a 400-page book. The
inclusion of a language index (listing also the grammaticalized items and
constructions discussed in the respective articles), a name index and a
rather detailed subject index (including again the languages treated) make
this book very reader-friendly.


Bisang, Walter, Himmelmann, Nikolaus & Wiemer, Björn (eds.) 2004: What
makes Grammaticalization? A Look from its Fringes and its Components.
Berlin / New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Campbell, Lyle (ed.) 2001: Grammaticalization. A Critical Assessment (=
Language Sciences 23 [special issue]).

Heine, Bernd & Kuteva, Tania 2005: Language Contact and Grammatical
Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hopper, Paul & Traugott, Elizabeth C. 1993: Grammaticalization.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lehmann, Christian 1995 [1982]: Thoughts on Grammaticalization. Munich:

Traugott, Elizabeth C. 1995: "Subjectification in grammaticalization", in:
Stein, Dieter & Wright, Susan (eds.): Subjectivity and Subjectivisation.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 31-54.

Traugott, Elizabeth C. & Dasher, Richard B. 2002: Regularity in Semantic
Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wischer, Ilse & Diewald, Gabriele (eds.) 2002: New Reflections on
Grammaticalization. Amsterdam: Benjamins.


Claus D. Pusch is assistant professor of Romance linguistics at Albert-
Ludwigs University in Freiburg (Germany). His current research interests
include corpus linguistics and spoken language, the evolution and
distribution of Romance imperatives and prohibitives in a
grammaticalization perspective, the development of phrasal discourse
markers, and the interplay of orality and standardization in Romance
minority and regional languages. He is the co-founder and convenor of the
triennial "Freiburg Workshop on Romance Corpus Linguistics" (3rd edition
in September 2006).
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