Grammaticalization - Clines


In the process of grammaticalization, an uninflected lexical word (or content word) is transformed into a grammar word (or function word). The process by which the word leaves its word class and enters another is not sudden, but occurs by a gradual series of individual shifts. The overlapping stages of grammaticalization form a chain, generally called a cline. These shifts generally follow similar patterns in different languages. Linguists do not agree on the precise definition of a cline or on its exact characteristics in given instances. It is believed that the stages on the cline do not always have a fixed position, but vary. However, Hopper and Traugott's famous pattern for the cline of grammaticalization illustrates the various stages of the form:

content word → grammatical word → clitic → inflectional affix

This particular cline is called 'the cline of grammaticality', and it is a common one. In this cline every item to the right represents a more grammatical and less lexical form than the one to its left. It is very common that full verbs become auxiliaries and eventually inflexional endings. An example of this phenomenon can be seen in the change from the Old English (OE) verb willan ('to want/to wish') to an auxiliary verb signifying intention in Middle English (ME): In Present Day English (PDE) this form is even shortened to 'll. The PDE verb 'will' can be said to have less lexical meaning than its preceding form in OE.

An illustrative example of this cline is in the orthography of Japanese compound verbs. Many Japanese words are formed by connecting two verbs, as in "go and ask" (行って聞く, ittekiku?), and in Japanese orthography lexical items are generally written with kanji (here 行く and 聞く), while grammatical items are written with hiragana (as in the connecting て). Compound verbs are thus generally written with a kanji for each constituent verb, but some suffixes have become grammaticalized, and are written in hiragana, such as "try out, see" (〜みる, -miru?), from "see" (見る, miru?), as in "try eating (it) and see" (食べてみる, tabetemiru?).

In Grammaticalization (2003) Hopper and Traugott state that the cline of grammaticalization has both diachronic and synchronic implications. Diachronically (i.e. looking at changes over time), clines represent a natural path along which forms or words change over time. However, synchronically (i.e. looking at a single point in time), clines can be seen as an arrangement of forms along imaginary lines, with at one end a 'fuller' or lexical form and at the other a more 'reduced' or grammatical form. What Hopper and Traugott mean is that from a diachronic or historical point of view, changes of word forms is seen as a natural process, whereas synchronically, this process can be seen as inevitable instead of historical.

The studying and documentation of recurrent clines enable linguists to form general laws of grammaticalization and language change in general. It plays an important role in the reconstruction of older states of a language. Moreover, the documenting of changes can help to reveal the lines along which a language is likely to develop in the future.

Read more about this topic:  Grammaticalization

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