Grammaticalization and language evolution

Andrew D. M. Smith

in The Oxford Handbook of Grammaticalization

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780199586783
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

 Grammaticalization and language evolution

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  • Linguistics
  • Historical and Diachronic Linguistics
  • Language Evolution


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This article examines the relevance of grammaticalisation to language evolution. It discusses the evolution of language, the pathways of grammaticalisation, the cognitive basis of grammaticalisation, and protolanguage and pre-linguistic communication. The analysis reveals that cognitive mechanisms underpinning grammaticalisation are not specifically linguistic, but derive from the principles of ostensive-inferential communication. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that pre-linguistic communication was based on these same principles, which allows us to gain insights into how language evolved from a non-linguistic state by studying grammaticalisation.

Keywords: grammaticalisation; language evolution; cognitive basis; protolanguage; pre-linguistic communication; cognitive mechanisms; ostensive-inferential communication

Article.  3936 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Historical and Diachronic Linguistics ; Language Evolution

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