On the "Adaptation" Metaphor in Linguistics: Areal Grammaticalization

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On the "Adaptation" Metaphor in Linguistics: Areal Grammaticalization. Tania Kuteva, University of Cologne

The paper treats languages as biological organisms that evolve, and "react" to their environment. The focus is on how a language adapts to the languages with which it is in contact. We argue the notion of adaptation successfully captures the nature of the phenomena recognized in areal grammaticalization.

The paper builds a case for the existence of a particular type of adaptation in areal grammaticalization, grammaticalizing metatypy (for the notion of grammaticalizing metatypy, see Heine & Kuteva,) in a particular language-contact area, the Bantu-Nilotic borderland in Eastern Africa. In this area it is possible to observe "loan translation" on a large scale relating to the entire semantic system of Southern Nilotic languages. The "loan translation" is not confined to lexical semantics. Rather, it relates to patterns which involve grammatical categories. Thus some Southern Nilotic languages (e.g. Nandi) have re-structured their tense-aspect systems -- which were originally aspectual in nature, i.e. with an inherent Imperfective/Perfective distinction in-built into the system -- on the model of neighbouring Bantu languages, which have a very elaborate past tense marking (Dimmendaal 1995).

As a strong argument for the Nilotic-to-Bantu adaptation the paper identifies the diffusion of particular conceptul patterns which serve as the structural templates for the conceptualization of aspectual categories such as the proximative -- a recently identified grammatical category meaning to be on the verge of V-ing (Heine 1992, Koenig 1993, Kuteva 1998).

A spectacular example of Nilotic-to-Bantu adaptation can be observed in the domain of gender. …