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Grammaticalization, 2nd ed., by Paul J. Hopper and Elizabeth Closs Traugott (Cambridge University Press, 2003)


In historical linguistics and discourse analysis, the process by which (a) a lexical item or construction changes into one that serves a grammatical function, or (b) a grammatical item develops a new grammatical function.

Recent research on grammaticalization has considered whether (or to what extent) it is possible for a grammatical item to become less grammatical over time--a process known as degrammaticalization.

See also:


Term introduced by French linguist Antoine Meillet in his 1912 study "L'evolution des formes grammaticales"

Examples and Observations:

  • The Concept of "Cline"
    "Basic to work on grammaticalization is the concept of a 'cline' (see Halliday 1961 for an early use of this term). From the point of view of change, forms do not shift abruptly from one category to another, but go through a series of small transitions, transitions that tend to be similar in type across languages. For example, a lexical noun like back that expresses a body part comes to stand for a spatial relationship in in/at the back of, and is susceptible to becoming an adverb, and perhaps eventually a preposition and even a case affix. Forms comparable to back of (the house) in English recur all over the world in different languages. The potential for change from lexical noun, to relational phrase, to adverb and preposition, and perhaps even to a case affix, is an example of what we mean by cline.

    "The term cline is a metaphor for the empirical observation that cross-linguistically forms tend to undergo the same kinds of changes or have similar sets of relationships, in similar orders."
    (Paul J. Hopper and Elizabeth Closs Traugott, Grammaticalization, 2nd ed. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2003)

  • Not Just Words, but Constructions
    "Studies on grammaticalization have often focused on isolated linguistic forms. It has frequently been emphasized, however, that grammaticalization not only affects single words or morphemes, but often also larger structures or constructions (in the sense of 'fixed sequences'). . . . More recently, with the increasing interest in patterns and particularly with the advent of Construction Grammar . . ., constructions (in the traditional sense and in the more formal explications of Construction Grammar) have received much more attention in studies on grammaticalization . . .."
    (Katerina Stathi, Elke Gehweiler, and Ekkehard König, Introduction to Grammaticalization: Current Views and Issues. John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2010)

  • Constructions in Context
    "[G]rammaticalization theory adds little to the insights of traditional historical linguistics despite purporting to offer a new way of looking at data concerning grammatical forms.

    "Still, one thing that grammaticalization definitely has gotten right in recent years is the emphasis on constructions and on forms in actual use, and not in the abstract. That is, it has been realized that it is not enough simply to say, for instance, that a body part has become a preposition (e.g. HEAD > ON-TOP-OF) but rather one must recognize that it is HEAD in a particular collocation, e.g. at-the-HEAD-of that has yielded a preposition, or that HAVE turning into EXIST is not necessarily just a random semantic shift but rather is one that happens in the context of adverbials . . .. This is a big step forward, since it takes semantic change especially out of the realm of the purely lexical and places it into the pragmatic domain, deriving changes from inferencing and the like that are possible for words in constructions with other words and in actual, contextually keyed usage."
    (Brian D. Joseph, "Rescuing Traditional (Historical) Linguistics From Grammaticalization Theory." Up and Down the Cline--The Nature of Grammaticalization, edited by Olga Fischer, Muriel Norde, and Harry Perridon. John Benjamins, 2004)
Alternate Spellings: grammaticalisation, grammatisation, grammaticisation
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