Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-768ffcd9cc-8zwnf Total loading time: 0.406 Render date: 2022-12-03T10:09:20.599Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

A multi-modular approach to gradual change in grammaticalization1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 February 2008

Purdue University
The Ohio State University
Authors' addresses: (Francis) Department of English, Purdue University, 500 Oval Drive, West Lafayette, IN47907, U.S.A. E-mail:
(Yuasa) Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures, The Ohio State University, 398 Hagerty Hall, 1775College Road, Columbus, OH43210, U.S.A. E-mail:


Examining four constructions in three languages (English quantificational nouns, Japanese subordinating conjunctions, Cantonese coverbs, Japanese deverbal postpositions), this paper shows that semantic properties can change faster than syntactic properties in gradual processes of grammaticalization. In each of these cases, the syntactic properties of one category become associated with the semantic properties of a different category when an item undergoes semantic change, leading to the appearance of mixed categorial properties. We propose that this sort of change is best captured using a multi-modular framework (Sadock 1991, Yuasa 2005), which allows changes to affect semantics independently of syntax, and which shows clearly that the relevant items and constructions still conform to the separate structural constraints of syntax and semantics, despite the unusual combination of properties. These findings are important for theories of grammaticalization because they suggest that the cover term ‘decategorialization’ (the loss of grammatical properties associated with the source category) must be understood in terms of at least two separate processes: (1) the effects of semantic change on an item's distribution; and (2) the effects of frequency (Bybee & Hopper 2001) and Pressure for Structure–Concept Iconicity (Newmeyer 1998) on an item's syntactic categorization. Our case studies show that the first kind of decategorialization effects can occur even in the absence of the second kind. Implications of these findings, including possible reasons for both the instability and the long-term retention of mismatch constructions, are also considered.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2008

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



We are grateful to Nigel Fabb, Ewa Jaworska, David Kemmerer, Steve Matthews, Charles Quinn, Elizabeth Traugott, Jim Unger, and two anonymous JL reviewers for their insightful comments and criticisms of earlier versions of this paper. We thank Helen Hoi Lam Ching, Ritty Wing Yung Choi, and Stella Wing Man Kwan for their consultation on the modern Cantonese examples, and Naomi Fukumori and Shelley Quinn for their assistance with the classical Japanese examples. We would also like to thank Adele Goldberg and Fritz Newmeyer for discussing various issues and recommending references. Finally, we are grateful to audiences at the Linguistic Society of America meeting in Albuquerque in January 2006 and at Purdue University in January 2006 for their comments on early presentations of this work.



Aarts, Bas. 2001. English syntax and argumentation, 2nd edn.New York: Palgrave Publishers.Google Scholar
Ansaldo, Umberto. 1999. Comparative constructions in Sinitic: Areal typology and patterns of grammaticalization. Ph.D. dissertation, Stockholm University.Google Scholar
Baker, Mark C. 2003. Lexical categories: Verbs, nouns, and adjectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bauer, Robert S. & Benedict, K. Paul. 1997. Modern Cantonese phonology. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bisang, Walter. 2004. Grammaticalization without coevolution of form and meaning. In Walter, Bisang & Nikolaus, Himmelmann (eds.), What makes grammaticalization? A look from its fringes and its components, 109138. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bock, J. Kathryn, Butterfield, Sally, Cutler, Anne, Cutting, Cooper J., Eberhard, M. Kathleen & Humphreys, R. Karin. 2006. Number agreement in British and American English: Agreeing to disagree collectively. Language 82, 64113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brems, Lieselotte. 2003. Measure noun constructions: An instance of semantically-driven grammaticalization. International Journal of Corpus Linguistics 8, 283312.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brinton, Laurel. 1988. The development of English aspectual systems: Aspectualizers and postverbal particles. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Butt, Miriam. 1997. Interfaces as locus of historical change. In Miriam, Butt & Tracy, King (eds.), The LFG97 Conference, 116Stanford: CSLI Publications.Google Scholar
Bybee, Joan L. 2003. Cognitive processes in grammaticalization. In Michael, Tomasello (ed.), The new psychology of language, vol. 2, 145168. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
Bybee, L. & Hopper, Paul (eds.). 2001. Frequency and the emergence of linguistic structure. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bybee, Joan L., Perkins, Revere & Pagliuca, William. 1994. The evolution of grammar: Tense, aspect, and modality in the languages of the world. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Chierchia, Gennaro & McConnell-Ginet, Sally. 2000. Meaning and grammar: An introduction to semantics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
Chomsky, Noam. 1995. The Minimalist program. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
Corbett, Greville G. 1991. Gender. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Croft, William. 2000. Explaining language change: An evolutionary approach. Harlow: Pearson Education.Google Scholar
Croft, William. 2001. Radical Construction Grammar. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Culicover, Peter W. & Jackendoff, S. Ray. 1997. Syntactic coordination despite semantic subordination. Linguistic Inquiry 28, 195217.Google Scholar
Culicover, Peter W. & Jackendoff, S. Ray. 2005. Simpler syntax. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Davidson, Donald. 1967. The logical form of action sentences. In Nicholas, Rescher (ed.), The logic of decision and action, 8195. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.Google Scholar
Denison, David. 2001. Gradience and linguistic change. In Laurel, J. Brinton (ed.), Historical linguistics 1999: Selected papers from the 14th International Conference on Historical Linguistics, 119144. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Denison, David. 2002. History of the sort of construction family. Presented at ICCG2: Second International Conference on Construction Grammar, Helsinki.Google Scholar
Denison, David. 2005. The grammaticalisations of sort of, kind of and type of in English. Presented at New Reflections on Grammaticalization 3, University of Santiago de Compostela.Google Scholar
Eberhard, Kathleen M., Cutting, Cooper J. & Bock, Kathryn J.. 2005. Making syntax of sense: Number agreement in sentence production. Psychological Review 112, 531559.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Eggert, Randall. 2002. Disconcordance: The syntax, semantics, and pragmatics of or-agreement. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago.Google Scholar
Fleischman, Suzanne. 1982. The future in thought and language: Diachronic evidence from Romance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Francis, Elaine J. 1999. Variation within lexical categories. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago.Google Scholar
Francis, Elaine J. & Matthews, Stephen. 2005. A multi-dimensional approach to the category ‘verb’ in Cantonese. Journal of Linguistics 41, 269305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Francis, Elaine J. & Matthews, Stephen. 2006. Categoriality and object extraction in Cantonese serial verb constructions. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 24, 751801.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Givón, Talmy. 1979. On understanding grammar. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Goldberg, Adele. 1995. Constructions: A Construction Grammar approach to argument structure. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Gupta, Anil. 1980. The logic of common nouns. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
Hare, Mary & Elman, Jeffrey L.. 1995. Learning and morphological change. Cognition 56, 6198.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Harris, Alice C. 2003. Cross-linguistic perspectives on syntactic change. In Joseph, & Janda, (eds.), 529551.Google Scholar
Haspelmath, Martin. 1998. Does grammaticalization need reanalysis? Studies in Language 22, 315351.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Haspelmath, Martin. 1999. Why is grammaticalization irreversible? Linguistics 37(6), 10431068.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hawkins, John A. 2004. Efficiency and complexity in grammars. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Heine, Bernd. 2003. Grammaticalization. In Joseph, & Janda, (eds.), 575601.Google Scholar
Heine, Bernd, Caudi, Ulrike & Hünnemeyer, Friederike. 1991. Grammaticalization: A conceptual framework. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Heine, Bernd & Kuteva, Tania. 2002. World lexicon of grammaticalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hopper, Paul J. 1991. On some principles of grammaticization. In Traugott, & Heine, (eds.), 1735.Google Scholar
Hopper, Paul J. & Traugott, Closs Elizabeth. 2003. Grammaticalization, 2nd edn.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Huang, C. T. 1998. Logical relations in Chinese and the theory of grammar. New York: Garland.Google Scholar
Hwang, Jya-Lin. 2000. On grammaticalization in serial verb constructions in Chinese. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Hawaii.Google Scholar
Iori, Isao, Takanashi, Shino, Nakanishi, Kumiko & Yamada, Toshihiro. 2001. Nihongo-Bunpoo Handbook. Tokyo: Suriieenettowaaku.Google Scholar
Jackendoff, Ray S. 2002. Foundations of language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Joseph, D. & Janda., Richard (eds.). 2003. The handbook of historical linguistics. Malden, MA: Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Klamer, Marian. 2000. How report verbs become quote markers and complementisers. Lingua 110, 6998.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Konoshima, Masatoshi. 1983. Jodooshi joshi gaisetsu. Tokyo: Oufuusha.Google Scholar
Koojien [Japanese dictionary]. 1976. Tokyo: Iwanami.Google Scholar
Kwok, Fan, Lee, Thomas, Lun, Caesar, Luke, K. K., Tung, Peter & Cheung, K. H.. 1997. Guide to LSHK Cantonese romanization of Chinese characters. Hong Kong: Linguistic Society of Hong Kong.Google Scholar
Lakoff, George. 1987. Women, fire, and dangerous things: What categories reveal about the mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Langacker, Ronald W. 1991. Foundations of cognitive grammar, vol. 2. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
Lehmann, Christian. 1995 [1982]. Thoughts on grammaticalization. Munich & Newcastle: LINCOM EUROPA.Google Scholar
Li, Charles & Sandra, A. Thompson. 1974. Co-verbs in Mandarin Chinese: Verbs or prepositions? Journal of Chinese Linguistics 2, 257278.Google Scholar
Li, Charles & Thompson, A. Sandra. 1981. Mandarin Chinese: A functional reference grammar. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Li, Yen-Hui Audrey. 1990. Order and constituency in Mandarin Chinese. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Li, Ying Che. 1980. The historical development of the coverb and the coverbial phrase in Chinese. Journal of Chinese Linguistics 8, 273293.Google Scholar
Lightfoot, David. 1979. Principles of diachronic syntax. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Lord, Carol. 1993. Historical change in serial verb constructions. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Matsumoto, Yo. 1998. Semantic change in the grammaticalization of verbs into postpositions in Japanese. In Toshio, Ohori (ed.), Studies in Japanese grammaticalization, 2560. Tokyo: Kuroshio.Google Scholar
Matsumura, Akira. 1969. Kotengo gendaigo jodooshi dooshi shosetsu. Tokyo: Gakutousha.Google Scholar
Matthews, Stephen. 2006. Serial verb constructions in Cantonese. In Alexandra, Aikhenvald & Dixon, R. M. W. (eds.), Serial verb constructions: A cross-linguistic typology, 6987. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Matthews, Stephen & Yip, Virginia. 1994. Cantonese: A comprehensive grammar. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
McCawley, James D. 1987. A case of syntactic mimicry. In René, Dirven & Vilém, Frid (eds.), Functionalism in linguistics, 459470. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McCawley, James D. 1992. Justifying part-of-speech assignments in Mandarin Chinese. Journal of Chinese Linguistics 20, 213245.Google Scholar
Morgan, Jerry L. & Georgia, M. Green. 2005. Why verb agreement is not the poster child for any general formal principle. In Salikoko, Mufwene, Elaine, J. Francis & Rebecca, Wheeler (eds.), Polymorphous linguistics: Jim McCawley's legacy, 455478. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
Muraki, Shinjiro. 1991. Nihongo-dooshi no shosoo [Aspects of Japanese verbs]. Kasukabe: Hitsuji Shobo.Google Scholar
Muraki, Shinjiro. 2005. Toki o arawasu juuzoku-setsuzokushi [Temporal subordinating conjunction]. In Doshisha Joshi Daigaku Gakujutsu Kenkyuu Nenpoo 56, 3753.Google Scholar
Newmeyer, Frederick J. 1998. Language form and language function. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
Newmeyer, Frederick J. 2005. Possible and probable languages. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nihon Kokugo Daijiten [Japanese Dictionary]. 1935. Tokyo: Shogakukan.Google Scholar
Ono, Susumu. 1953. Kara to karani no furui imi ni tsuite. In Ronbunshuu, Kankoukai (ed.), Gengo minzoku ronsou, 243258. Tokyo: Sanseidoo.Google Scholar
Pollard, Carl & Sag, A. Ivan. 1994. Head-driven Phrase Structure Grammar. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Pulleyblank, Edwin G. 1995. Outline of Classical Chinese grammar. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.Google Scholar
Rubba, Jo. 1994. Grammaticalization as semantic change. In William, Pagliuca (ed.), Perspectives on grammaticalization, 81101. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sadock, Jerrold M. 1990. Parts of speech in Autolexical Syntax. Berkeley Linguistics Society (BLS) 16: General Session, 269281. Berkeley: Berkeley Linguistics Society.Google Scholar
Sadock, Jerrold M. 1991. Autolexical Syntax: A theory of parallel grammatical representations. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Timberlake, Alan. 1977. Reanalysis and actualization in syntactic change. In Charles, Li (ed.), Mechanisms of syntactic change, 141180. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
Traugott, Elizabeth Closs. 2003. Constructions in grammaticalization. In Joseph, & Janda, (eds.), 624647.Google Scholar
Traugott, Elizabeth Closs. 2006. The concepts of constructional mismatch and type-shifting from the perspective of grammaticalization. Draft ms., Stanford University.Google Scholar
Traugott, Closs & Heine, Bernd(eds.). 1991. Approaches to grammaticalization, vol. 1. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
Traugott, Elizabeth Closs & König, Ekkehard. 1991. The semantics-pragmatics of grammaticalization revisited. In Traugott, & Heine, (eds.), 189218.Google Scholar
Wolfram, Walt & Schilling-Estes, Natalie. 1998. American English. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
Wright, Abby & Kathol, Andreas. 2003. When a head is not a head: A constructional approach to exocentricity in English. In John, Kim & Stephen, Wechsler (eds.), The 9th International Conference on HPSG, 373389. Stanford: CSLI Publications.Google Scholar
Yamaguchi, Gyoji. 1980. Kodai-setsuzikuhoo no kenkyu. Tokyo: Meiji Shoin.Google Scholar
Yuasa, Etsuyo. 1998. Subordinate clauses in Japanese. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago.Google Scholar
Yuasa, Etsuyo. 2005. Modularity in language: Constructional and categorial mismatch in syntax and semantics. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Yuasa, Etsuyo & Francis, J. Elaine. 2003. Categorial mismatch in a multi-modular theory of grammar. In Elaine, Francis & Laura, Michaelis (eds.), Mismatch: Form–function incongruity and the architecture of grammar, 179227. Stanford: CSLI Publications.Google Scholar
Zhang, Shi. 1990. Correlations between the double object construction and preposition stranding. Linguistic Inquiry 21, 312316.Google Scholar
Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

A multi-modular approach to gradual change in grammaticalization1
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

A multi-modular approach to gradual change in grammaticalization1
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

A multi-modular approach to gradual change in grammaticalization1
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *