Synopsis of Hopper & Traugott


Chapter 2

  1. This chapter deals with the history of Grammaticalization going back to von Humboldt, Meillet, and other pioneers and places it in a historical and theoretical context.

    In work of Humboldt (1822), e.g., there was a concern for the evolutionary nature of language, from isolating to agglutinative to synthetic, which was supposedly the highest stage. This was part of the ideas about typology at the time. Later concern for historical linguistics took over and notions about the "evolution" of grammar became swept up in the Neogrammarian tradition, where everything had to be "exceptionless" so no concern any more for the evolution.

    Gabelentz also concerned with grammaticalization (1891); he talked about how forms begin vigorously (like burocrats) then fade, grow pale, become bleached out, need new paint; some become mummified. He suggested there were 2 competing tendencies:

    Gabelentz also noted that the process is not linear, but cyclical with constant reiteration of the process; the conditions are always present in the language, i.e. it doesn't reach a final, ideal stage. Or, it's not so much cylical (bec. things would come back to the same place) but a spiral.

    Meillet then took up the notion, used the term grammaticalization, and recognized it as a central area in the theory of language change (esp. morphological change.) But anchored in a positivistic idea of "being able to know" something for sure:

    Meillet emphasized not the origins of grammatical change, but the transformations: the ongoing changes, not a kind of corruption or movement toward perfection, but just the way it is.

    Meillet said there were two ways that new grammatical forms emerge:

    Meillet said these were the only ways by which new grammatical forms are arrived at, and that analogy was not the primary way: analogy was more a process of replacement of allomorphs by more general ones, e.g. the way English plural -s has expanded and generalized to be the default marker, when it was originally just one possibility. So if analogy is secondary, autonomous words (lexical items and phrases) taking on grammatical roles is the primary one.

    Quotation pg. 22
    Thus the example of be-going-to ---> gonna where all morpheme boundaries are erased, and phonological reduction occurs. The phrasal collocation may take over from a reduced form that has become "commonplace" and as sort of "lost its zip" (become banal.) Later Meillet also talks about the possibility of grammaticalization being extended to syntax, since syntactic patterns also have meaning and gives example from Latin, where various kinds of word order became SVO, and it is clear only from the order which is the subject and which the object. (dog bites man/man bites dog etc.)

    This word-order business shows two of the hallmarks of grammaticalization :

    1. what was 'expressive' becomes grammatical in meaning
    2. it creates new grammatical tools for the lg. rather than just modifying or replacing existent ones.
    The expressivity for Meillet means perhaps pragmatic word order in Latin may be pragmatic, a way to indicate focus but then the expressivity is lost by its grammaticalization. Thus loss of expressivity becomes a cause of grammaticalization i.e. the frequent or overuse of an expressive device leads to a need for its replacement. this may be so, but is it enough of a cause for all grammaticalization? H&T feel there is a need for a "different way of talking about meaning change" which will be dealt with in Chap. 4.

  2. Weakening is a term used by Gabelentz ( Verbleichung ) and by Meillet ( affaiblissement ) as one of the causes of grammaticalization, too. This applies to both phonology and grammar, both are "weakened". Gives example from modern Greek, development of future tense tha from the phrase
    thelô ina --> thelô na --> thena -- tha "I wish that"
    Semantic development is from 'wish, desire' to 'future.' The phonolog. weakening is there, is the semantic change a "weakening"? Meillet tends to stress 'deficits' i.e. things getting worse (loss, weakening, attrition). Is this part of the classical attitude that lg. change is deterioration? (esp. w. classical lgs.)

  3. Other approaches since Meillet.

haroldfs@ccat, last modified 1/17/01