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Review of  What makes Grammaticalization?

Reviewer: Margaret Dunham
Book Title: What makes Grammaticalization?
Book Author: Bjorn Wiemer Walter Bisang Nikolaus P. Himmelmann
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): Plautdietsch
Language Family(ies): Baltic
Slavic Subgroup
Issue Number: 16.2240

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Date: Fri, 22 Jul 2005 17:20:34 +0200
From: Margaret Dunham
Subject: What makes Grammaticalization? A Look from its Fringes and its

EDITORS: Wiemer, Björn; Bisang, Walter; Himmelmann, Nikolaus P.
TITLE: What makes Grammaticalization?
SUBTITLE: A Look from its Fringes and its Components
SERIES: Trends in Linguistics. Studies and Monographs 158
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2004

Margaret D. Dunham, Laboratoire de Langues et Civilisations à Tradition
Orale, CNRS, Villejuif, France

This 354 page book is a collection of 11 papers on diverse aspects of
grammaticalization. It is divided into 4 parts: General issues; On
building grammar from below and from above: Between phonology and
pragmatics; Grammatical derivation; and The role of lexical semantics and
of constructions. The book ends with a subject index, an author index and
a language index.

The first paper, "What makes grammaticalization? An appraisal of its
components and its fringes", by Björn Wiemer and Walter Bisang, is an
excellent introduction to the book as a whole, separately presenting the
different concepts treated in the book, while noting how each author's
contribution fits in.

The paper begins with a short history of studies in grammaticalization. It
then goes on to present the main purpose of the book, which is to look at
grammaticalization from a broader perspective than as defined by such
authors as Heine, Claudi and Hünnemeyer (1991), Hopper and Traugott (1993)
Bybee, Perkins and Pagliuca (1994) and Lehmann ([1982] 1995). This broader
perspective considers grammaticalization not only as the study of changes
along a "cline", from morphosyntactically more complex to more reduced
expression formats, but takes into consideration the "fringe areas":
pragmatics, phonology and the lexicon.

The paper ends with an explanation of what led to the book's existence: a
workshop on the difference between grammaticalization and lexicalization,
organized by Björn Wiemer in Constance, Germany, from the 1st to the 3rd
of February, 2001. The main outcome of the workshop was the recognition of
the need to take into consideration the distributional properties of
linguistic units and the interaction between stems and diverse functional

The second paper, "Lexicalization and grammaticization: Opposite or
orthogonal?" by Nikolaus P. Himmelmann, undertakes to define the criteria
necessary for distinguishing between lexicalization and grammaticization.
He starts out by giving the most commonly encountered definitions for
lexicalization and grammaticization, which usually appeal either to
the "box" metaphor or to the "process" metaphor.

The box metaphor is roughly described as the idea that the lexicon and the
grammar are two large boxes, and lexicalization and grammaticization
concern elements that move from one box to the other.

Following the process metaphor, lexicalization is most often used to refer
to cases of univerbation and fossilization. The first is where two or more
lexical items frequently occurring together become one item, as
for 'cupboard', or 'brainstorming', and the second is where
morphologically complex forms become unanalyzable wholes. Grammaticization
usually refers to a lexical item which develops into a grammatical item,
such as the word for 'go' which has become a future marker, or when a
grammatical item becomes a more grammatical item, the author giving the
example of a directional marker which becomes a dative marker and later on
an accusative marker.

The author maintains that it is crucial to not only focus on the
grammaticizing element, because it is the grammaticizing element in its
syntagmatic context which is grammaticized, and thus it is constructions
and not individual lexical items which are the proper domain of

The author concludes that the essential difference between lexicalization
and grammaticization is that in the first case, it is a string of items
which is conventionalized, whereas in the latter case, the process of
conventionalization concerns a construction, containing at least one fixed
item, the grammaticizing element, and a growing class of items which enter
into the construction.

The third paper, "Exploring grammaticalization from below", by Livio
Gaeta, opens Part II of the book, "On building grammar from below and from
above: Between phonology and pragmatics". The author questions the
assumption that there is a diachronic tendency towards building up
grammar, but asserts that grammaticalization theory is helpful for
demonstrating that grammar is not merely an aggregate of fortuitous
changes, but that the changes are well motivated, and dependant on the way
language users perceive the world around them.

The first part of his paper discusses the reanalysis of phonological
structures and rules, and disputes the claim that phonological items
having grammatical significance (such as German umlauting, for example)
belong to the lowly domain of "morphologization" rather than the more
important domain of "grammaticalization". The author gives several
examples of the reanalysis of phonological rules, taken from various
languages such as several Italian dialects, Breton and German.

In the second part of his paper, the author asserts the central role of
morphology, and argues for a morphocentric view of grammaticalization,
stating that language change is often of a centripetal nature, and not of
a unidirectional nature.

The fourth paper, "Grammaticalization vs. pragmaticalization? The
development of pragmatic markers in German and Italian", by Susanne
Günthner and Katrin Mutz, studies function words connecting larger parts
of spontaneous discourse in German and Italian from a pragmatic
perspective. These function words, the subjunctors 'wobei' and 'obwohl' in
German, and modifying suffixes in Italian, have developed discourse-
pragmatic functions where their functional scope has extended from the
morphological and sentence-syntactical level to the level of discourse and
speech act. Through the analysis of examples taken from historical sources
as well as from present-day spontaneous speech, the authors argue that the
emergence of discourse-pragmatic functions in suffixes, adverbs,
conjunctions, etc. demonstrate that narrow concepts of grammaticalization,
based on morphosyntactic criteria, are not sufficient for explaining
processes involved in the development of pragmatic markers, and that an
extended model of grammaticalization is necessary, which takes into
account changes in function on the discourse-pragmatic level. In their
view, it is necessary to distinguish between the different kinds of
changes leading to grammaticalization, namely morphologization,
syntacticization and pragmaticization.

In the fifth paper, "Grammaticalization without coevolution of form and
meaning: The case of tense-aspect-modality in East and mainland Southeast
Asia", Walter Bisang shows how two salient typological properties of these
languages: lack of obligatory grammatical categories and comparatively
weak correlation between the lexicon and morphosyntax, lead to pragmatics
being more than usually relevant; the nonexistence of morphological
paradigms; and the nonconvergent development of form and meaning. This
latter characteristic is important for explaining the wide diffusion of
grammaticalization processes in the grammars of East and mainland
Southeast Asian languages. The author illustrates these traits using the
verb 'come to have' in Khmer and Hmong, and verb-final '-le' and sentence-
final 'le' in Chinese.

The sixth paper, "The rise of an indefinite article: The case of
Macedonian 'eden'", by Daniel Weiss, examines the current use
of 'eden' "one" in contemporary standard Macedonian, where it can be used
not only as a numeral but also as an indefinite pronoun, possibly being
grammaticalized into an indefinite article.

The author explores several possible grammaticalization channels
for 'eden': the quasi-universal tendency whereby indefinite articles
originate in indefinite pronouns, which in their turn may usually be
traced back to the numeral 'one'. The second grammaticalization channel
concerns the impact of discourse structure on the acceptability and
optionality of 'eden'. The third possibility concerns the degree of
definiteness and of topicality. The fourth possibility concerns the
expansion of the distinctive function, where 'eden' serves as a sort of
intensifier, and can be combined with abstract as well as concrete nouns.
The fifth and final grammaticalization channel mentioned is when the role
of referential status is reanalyzed, where the element begins by referring
to a quantity, and goes on to mark genericity. The author concludes that
the distinctive function of 'eden' is to single out, render more
distinguishable, one referent from a set of similar referents, a function
which is more pronounced in predicative and non-specific uses than in
specific and generic reference.

Part III, "Grammatical derivation", begins with the seventh
paper, "Grammaticalization via extending derivation", by Volkmar Lehmann.
The author points out that processes in grammaticalization can comprise a
mere alteration in distribution and functions, a change from lexical to
grammatical status without any change in external form. To illustrate this
point, he takes the case of the development of aspect in Slavonic. He
begins by tackling the problem of the characterization of the grammatical
nature of Russian aspect, and Slavonic aspect generally, namely whether it
should be considered an inflectional or a derivational phenomenon. The
author argues that it is possible to account for these cases in the same
manner as Walter Bisang for East and mainland Southeast Asian languages,
which is by considering them as functions which are highly inferential in
character, which show no changes in formal substance, but which show full
distributional expansion, and thus constitute an argument in favor of
functionally based grammaticalization

The eighth paper, "Grammaticalization the derivational way: The Russian
aspectual prefixes 'po-', 'za-', 'ot-'" by Katherina Böttger, describes a
small part of the process of the development of Russian aspect, namely the
development of the three prefixes noted in the title. Building on the
previous paper by V. Lehmann, the author describes how these prefixes
expanded in interaction with the lexical-actional function of the verb
stems first as lexical prefixes and, later, also as aspectual, and
therefore grammatical, prefixes. She further describes how these prefixes
went through several stages in their development: firstly fulfilling only
a spatial function, then also fulfilling an aspectual function, and
thirdly also partly fulfilling a temporal function.

The ninth paper, "The role of predicate meaning in the development of
reflexivity" by Ekkehard König and Letizia Vezzosi, explores the ways in
which the compatibility between the reflexive marker and a growing number
of verbs shaped the evolution of the reflexive marker in English and other
languages. They begin by exploring the restrictions which exist on the
applicability of the reflexive marker to different semantic categories of
verbs, namely "other-directed" and "non-other-directed" predicates. They
then show that grammaticalization happens in specific constructions, in
certain onset contexts, under certain conditions. They identify certain
contexts where the need for disambiguation led to the development of
complex reflexive anaphors in English, where they are the result of a
fusion between personal pronouns and intensifiers. Addressing the question
of why such changes happen in some languages but not in others, they
hypothesize that in the case of English, contact with Celtic languages may
have facilitated the evolution.

The tenth paper, "Modals and the boundaries of grammaticalization: the
case of Russian, Polish and Serbian-Croation" by Björn Hansen, describes
modals in Slavonic languages and attempts to account for their development
following the parameters of grammaticalization established by Lehmann. The
author determines modals by locating them on a grammaticalization chain,
extending from content words to fully-fledged modal auxiliaries. He posits
that modals can be divided into several categories, depending on their
semantic and formal properties, ranging from central to peripheral.
According to Hansen, Slavonic modals show a medium degree of
grammaticalization: they retain their status of more or less autonomous
units and do not coalesce with the main verb, and show no specific
morphological or syntactic properties, which leads him to state that,
contrary to the modals in many Germanic languages, the grammaticalization
of Slavonic modals came to a relatively early halt.

In the final article, "The evolution of passives as grammatical
constructions in Northern Slavic and Baltic languages", Björn Wiemer shows
that the comparison between Northern Slavic and Baltic languages is useful
for observing different stages in grammaticalization, as, even though they
share a large amount of morphosyntactic techniques and markers, the
central factors that determine the grammatical status of these properties
lies in the way they fit into passive constructions.

The author notes that the usual grammaticalization parameters are
inadequate for describing the development of passives in these languages,
as passives are constructions, and as such, cannot be described in terms
of morphologization. Furthermore, passives are particular in that they are
never obligatory, speakers can always chose to use an active construction.
Wiemer concludes with a number of criteria that could be used to account
for the degree of grammaticality of passives, instead of those from
morpheme based grammaticalization theory


The high level of expertise in the various domains covered by the papers
in this book make it an important contribution to the field of
grammaticalization studies. An unfortunate hurdle to the understanding of
many of the papers is the poor level of English. Faulty grammar and a lack
of punctuation make it necessary to re-read some of the sentences many
times. However, it is possible to look upon some of the more interesting
formulations as contributions to the study of contact-induced

In my opinion, the major contribution of this volume to grammaticalization
theory lies in its search for ways in which to integrate problematic
elements such as constructions and expression formats, as well as in its
efforts to establish what does or does not belong to the domain of the
theory. The result is a clearer notion of how to broaden the theory,
making it possible to take into account all the processes involved in
diachronic grammatical change and the emergence of grammatical systems.


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

Heine, Bernd, Ulrike Claudi, and Friederike Hünnemeyer. 1991.
Grammaticalization: A Conceptual Framework. Chicago-London: University of
Chicago Press.

Hopper, Paul J., and Elisabeth C. Traugott. 1993. Grammaticalization.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lehmann, Christian. 1995. Thoughts on Grammaticalization. (LINCOM Studies
in Theoretical Linguistics 1.) Munich-Newcastle: Lincom Europa.


Margaret Dunham carries out research in linguistics at the French National
Center for Scientific Research (CNRS). Her doctorate consisted in a
monograph on Langi, a hitherto undocumented Bantu language spoken in
Tanzania. She is currently documenting a closely related language,
Nyilamba, in order to clarify certain areal typological features,
certainly due in part to long contact with surrounding Cushitic languages.