TPS 116(2) – Abstract 3

Syntactic Echoes of Pronominal Cliticization and Grammaticalization: The Case of Old High German First‐Person Plural ‐mes

by Katerina Somers (Queen Mary University of London), Mary Allison, Matthew Boutilier, Robert Howell (University of Wisconsin, Madison)

The origin of first person plural (1PL) ‘long’ forms of the type faramês/‐mes ‘(we) go’ in Old High German (OHG) is one of the most intractable problems in the history of the Germanic languages. Because these forms are confined only to OHG and have no obvious parallel elsewhere in Germanic or Indo‐European, most of the tools of the comparative method are of little use, with the result that the many accounts put forward over the past two centuries rely on a series of unlikely and ad hoc assumptions. What is more, previous work has focused on the one aspect of the problem that scholars are least likely to solve given the array of texts we presently have at our disposal, while paying little attention to what we argue is the more promising line of inquiry. That is, existing studies discuss in detail the possible morphological sources of ‐mes and their phonological development and focus little on the syntactic environments in which verbs inflected with ‐mes occur. We intend to reverse this trend through a comprehensive examination of ‐mes across the OHG corpus, with a particular focus on two of its major monuments, the OHG Tatian and Otfrid’s Evangelienbuch; this analysis shows that the syntactic distribution of ‐mes‐inflected verbs point to the suffix being diachronically and synchronically pronominal. Thus, we conclude that ‐mes must have arisen as the result of pronominal cliticization, a suggestion first put forth by Kuhn (1869) and Paul (1877).

DOI: 10.1111/1467-968X.12117

TPS 116(1) – Abstract 3

The Status of Passive Constructions in Old English

by Howard Jones (University of Oxford) & Morgan Macleod (University of Cambridge)

In Old English, passive‐type constructions involving a copula and a passive participle could be used to express both events and states. Two different types of copula are found in these constructions: weorðan, meaning ‘become’, and wesan and beon, meaning ‘be’. There has been some dispute as to how the meaning of these copulas relates to the meaning of the construction as a whole, in both its eventive and its stative uses, and whether any of these constructions was grammaticalized in the sense that its meaning was non‐compositional. We propose a semantic model that represents these constructions compositionally and test it against a selected corpus of Old English texts in order to address two questions: whether the data provide evidence of non‐compositional meaning that would suggest grammaticalization, and whether other factors are also responsible for the choice of copula. Our analysis suggests that the attested Old English passives are fully compatible with a compositional analysis; we also discuss additional semantic factors that may be responsible for the lower frequency of passives with weorðan.

DOI: 10.1111/1467-968X.12101

Semantically driven grammaticalisation: the systematic pathways of Estonian polar question particles

by Mari Aigro (University of Tartu)

Seeing grammaticalisation as being analogically driven takes the explanatory power, which is frequently assigned to syntactic position, and assigns it to the semantic analogy between the source and the target. This case study focuses on the semantic cohesion patterns in the pathways of contemporary as well as historical Estonian polar question particles (PQPs). It will show that not only is the semantic component of function words much more relevant to grammaticalisation than is commonly thought, but also that the grammaticalisation network surrounding a functional category can in fact be semantically so uniform that one can devise a model based on a semantic map and assign it a certain degree of explanatory power regarding why certain markers become PQPs and others are much less likely to do so.

While the most frequently mentioned PQP sources are negation and disjunction markers (Heine & Kuteva 2002), a comprehensive literature review reveals altogether six source categories. In addition to disjunction and negation markers, this list also includes clause conjunction markers, embedded PQPs, conditional markers and pronominal interrogatives (König & Siemund 2007, Nordström 2010, Metslang et al. 2017). These sources appear to form a systematic set – all of the above could be classified as markers of polarity or truth values (see Payne 1985 for coordinators, Nordström 2010 for conditionals). To investigate, whether or not this principle would hold for additional data and other newly discovered source categories, an in-depth corpus study was carried out on Estonian, a language especially rich in both neutral and biased PQPs.

Nearly 2400 polar questions using the particle strategy (inversion and zero-marking strategies are used alongside) were manually encoded in the Corpus of Old Written Estonian (17th–19th century) and the Corpus of Standard Estonian (20th century). I found six different PQPs—four biased and two neutral—used between the 17th and 21st centuries. Three of them—kas, või, ega—are still in use in Standard Modern Estonian. The source of kas is either a clause conjunction (“also”) or an embedded PQP; või most likely originates from a disjunction (“or”); and ega from a clause rejection marker (“nor”). The three historical polar question markers are eks, eps and jo/ju; while the first two originate from negation, the source of the latter is an affirmative focus marker. Only three have given rise to new functional structures: eks became an affirmative polar tag question marker; kas gave rise to the disjunction marker “either”; and jo/ju, after its brief time as a PQP, became a marker of evidentiality when occurring sentence-initially (retaining the older focus reading in other positions).

Hence, the new source categories introduced by the corpus study were polarity-sensitive focus markers (for ju) and rejection markers (for ega), both of which confirm the hypothesis that polar question particles originate from non-interrogative markers, which already involve the semantic component of negation, affirmation or neutral (open) polarity. Table 1 depicts the pathways of Estonian PQPs on a semantic map, which links the two dimensions of polarity – interrogation and bias.

Table 1: Semantic map of Estonian PQPs

Markers in the neutral category are especially relevant. They leave the truth value unknown, assigning open polarity even without interrogation, and due to this share a close link with PQPs. PQPs are more frequently homophonous with disjunction markers than other particles and both of the non-biased Estonian PQPs, kas and või, originate from the neutral category. Additionally, all functional markers originating from PQPs belong in this category. However, although the fact that the map accommodates all known sources of PQPs implies causality, it can only constitute a probabilistic rather than a deterministic model.


Aigro, M. 2017. A Diachronic Study of Polar Question Particles and Their Sources. MPhil thesis, University of Cambridge.

Heine, B. & Kuteva, T. 2002. World Lexicon of Grammaticalisation, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

König, E. & Siemund, P. 2007. Speech Act Distinctions in Grammar. In T. Shopen, ed. Language Typology and Syntactic Description, Vol 1: Clause Structure. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Metslang, H., Habicht, K. & Pajusalu, K. 2017. Where Do Polar Question Markers Come From? STUF – Language Typology and Universals 70(3).

Nordström, J. 2010. Modality and Subordinators, Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Payne, J.R. 1985. Complex Phrases and Complex Sentences. In T. Shopen (ed.) Language Typology and Syntactic Description. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Understanding the loss of inflection

by Helen Sims-Williams (University of Surrey)

The role of inflection is one of the most conspicuous ways that languages differ from each other. While English speakers only have to learn four or five forms of the verb, speakers of Georgian have to deal with paradigms containing hundreds of forms. In return for their efforts, they gain the ability to express complex propositions compactly: the single word vuc’er requires five words in its English translation ‘I am writing to him’.

Surrey Morphology Group
Loss of Inflection: a research project by the Surrey Morphology Group

The extent of inflectional morphology also distinguishes different historical stages of the same language – during its recorded history English has dramatically reduced the inflection it inherited from Proto-Germanic, leaving only a few relics, like the distinction between pronominal I/me, she/her, he/him.

The inflectional poverty of modern English may come as a relief to the many people who learn it as a second language, but its meagre remaining stock of inflection is zealously guarded by purists. Barack Obama was ‘roundly criticized’ for using a subject pronoun in phrases like “a very personal decision for Michelle and I” – a use described by Hock in his Principles of Historical Linguistics (1991: 629) as ‘the ultimate horror’ (admittedly in scare quotes), and which even led one blogger to comment “believe it or not, this was a contributing factor to my voting decision”. Continue reading “Understanding the loss of inflection”

TPS 114(2) – Abstract 4

The grammaticalisation of possessive person marking: a typological approach

by Marlou van Rijn (University of Amsterdam)

This study focuses on the grammaticalization of agreement markers from possessive pronouns, which has two different dimensions: loss of referentiality (function) and loss of morpho-phonological independence (form). I examine the referential potential and formal expression type of possessive person markers in a worldwide sample of 39 languages with an alienability distinction. Referential potential is measured independently of expression type by applying a new typology of person markers. First, I demonstrate that inalienable possessive marking is at least as referential and formally independent as alienable possessive marking, and often less referential and less independent. Unlike explanations in terms of frequency and iconicity, I argue that this asymmetry is essentially semantics-based: the presence of a possessive relationship is inherent to the meaning of the inalienable noun, which is therefore in less need of expressive marking than alienable nouns. Second, I show that loss of referentiality correlates with loss in form, but in a relative rather than an absolute sense: in individual languages, higher referential markers never show a greater degree of bonding with the possessee than lower referential markers. These results suggest that function and form evolve in the same direction, but need not evolve at the same pace.

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TPS 114(2) – Abstract 1

Axial parts, phi-features and degrammaticalization: the Case of Italian presso/pressi in diachrony

by Ludovico Franco (Universidade Nova de Lisboa)

In this paper, I will provide a possible syntactic characterization of (a subset) of so-called degrammaticalization processes, based on the case of the diachronic evolution of presso/pressi (near/at, in) in Italian. Moreover, with an empirical study on the Opera del Vocabolario Italiano (OVI) corpus, I will support Svenonius’s idea of Axial Part as an independent category in the lexicon (and not a mere spatial subset of relational nouns), providing a new kind of evidence i.e. of the diachronic type, to this claim.

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