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A multi-modular approach to gradual change in grammaticalization1



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.


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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:


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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.



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A multi-modular approach to gradual change in grammaticalization1



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