Grammaticalization in Early English. (Linguistics)

By Welna, Jerzy | Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies, Annual 2000 | Go to article overview

Grammaticalization in Early English. (Linguistics)


Welna, Jerzy, Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies


1. Definition and aim

Grammaticalisation was first defined by Antoine Meillet in 1912 as "the shift of an independent word to the status of a grammatical element", a process sometimes described as desemanticization (for criticism, cf. Traugott -- Heine 1991: 4). In terms of classification into parts of speech the change may involve transfer from "major lexical categories" to "minor, grammatical categories", so that nouns, verbs and adjectives may become adverbs, auxiliaries, and prepositions (cf. McMahon 1994: 160).

According to a recent definition, grammaticalization is:

(1) ... the process whereby the lexical items and constructions come in certain linguistic contexts to serve grammatical functions, and, once grammaticalized, continue to develop new grammatical functions (Hopper - Traugott 1993: xv).

However, the significance of grammaticalization in the study of linguistic change goes far beyond the scope of the above definitions. The process appears to reflect the evolution in human speech from a sequence of purely lexical items, originally denoting concrete objects, through the shift of the lexical component to grammatical, which culminates in the rise of a string of lexical and grammatical words. The subsequent stages may involve cliticization, i.e. attachment of a grammaticalized item to a content word, and its fusion with the modified stem, ultimately resulting in the transformation of the original free word into an affix and, at the most advanced stage, an inflectional marker.

The above sequence of events can be schematically presented as a chain development like the following:

(2) content item > grammatical word > clitic > inflectional affix (Hopper -- Traugott 1993: 7)

The present attempt at identifying different paths along which grammaticalization operates makes use of the evidence from the history of English. Its aim is to verify whether more advanced forms of grammaticalized words belong to later periods and to establish to what extent such advanced forms coexist in a language with the less grammaticalized forms. Since the two items examined are the adjective full (< PGmc *full-az) and the intensifier very (< OF verrai 'true'), yet another aim of the present contribution is to determine the causal connection between the decline of the auxiliary function of full as intensifier and the development of an analogous function of very, originally an adjective. The citations are selected from the Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edition).

2. The adjective full

CGmc *full-a- (IE *pl-n-o-) belongs to the most frequent stems in Germanic languages. Its original sense 'full, complete, containing abundance of' is evident from the early citations (c. 1000) adduced in the OED, like the one below,

(3) Hatep donne heahcyning helle betynan, fyres fulle (Sal. & Sat. 174 (Gr.))

which contains a typical nominal phrase fyres fulle (gen.) 'full of fire'.

The fates of that adjective best illustrate the evolution of a content word which undergoes grammaticalization. For instance, a "dine of lexicality", where "dine" is "a natural pathway along which forms evolve", can be exemplified as the following string:

(4) a basket full (of eggs ...) > a cupful (of water) > hopeful (Hopper -- Traugott 1993: 7)

It should be noted that items in (4) represent the same, evidently synchronic, plane since all the three forms coexist in contemporary English. But, curiously, Hopper and Traugott ignore the stage of a shift in the sense of full from adjectival to adverbial and the rise of the new intensifier, like in the phrases ful gode 'very good', ful rice 'very powerful', etc., where ful continues to be preposed with respect to the noun modified.

Evidently, when subject to a diachronic overview the semantic evolution of full goes even through more complex stages than the sequence (4) suggests. …

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