Article

Grammaticalization theory as a tool for reconstructing language evolution

Bernd Heine and Tania Kuteva

in The Oxford Handbook of Language Evolution

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199541119
Published online September 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199541119.013.0054

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

 Grammaticalization theory as a tool for reconstructing language evolution

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  • Linguistics
  • Language Evolution
  • Historical and Diachronic Linguistics

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This article aims to focus on the studies of grammaticalization that can be applied for reconstructing earlier phases in the evolution of language. Grammaticalization theory offers a tool for pushing linguistic reconstruction back to earlier phases of linguistic evolution, that is, to phases where human language or languages can be assumed to be different in structure from today's languages. Grammaticalization is defined as a process involving the development from lexical to grammatical forms, and from grammatical to even more grammatical forms and constructions. The assumptions and observations underlying the methodology of grammaticalization theory include development from early language to modern languages involved linguistic change, in which an important force driving linguistic change is creativity. Linguistic forms and structures have not necessarily been designed for the functions they currently serve. The grammaticalization of demonstratives shows that functional categories may change in such a way that they bear little resemblance to their original design. The first step in this process is from demonstrative to definite article and subsequently the element may develop further to be used for indefinite reference, and in a final stage the demonstrative may turn into a semantically largely empty marker of nominalization. Grammatical forms such as case, agreement, and voice markers are regarded as the result of gradual evolution, so that the earliest stage of human language that is reconstructable by the methodology of grammaticalization theory must have lacked grammatical categories such as case, agreement, and voice.

Keywords: grammaticalization; evolution of language; modern languages; demonstratives; grammatical categories

Article.  5778 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Language Evolution ; Historical and Diachronic Linguistics

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