Ashwini Deo (Yale) will give a talk on “The Semantic and Pragmatic Underpinnings of Grammaticalization Paths” in the Linguistics department on Friday, September 25, at 3:30 in ILC N400.
Abstract: It is a well-established fact that meanings associated with functional linguistic expressions evolve in systematic ways across time. But we have little precise understanding of why and how this happens. We know even less about how formal approaches to the meanings of functional categories like tense, aspect, negation can be reconciled with the typologically robust findings of grammaticalization research. In this talk, I will take a first step towards such an understanding by analyzing a robustly attested semantic change in natural languages — the progressive-to-imperfective shift.
The facts can be described as follows: At Stage 0, a linguistic system L possesses a single imperfective or neutral aspectual marker X that is used to express two contextually disambiguable meanings α and β. At Stage 1, a progressive marker Y arises spontaneously in L in order to express α in some contexts. At Stage 2, Y becomes entrenched as an obligatory grammatical element for expressing α while X is restricted in use to expressing β. At Stage 3, Y generalizes and is used to express both α and β. X is gradually driven out of L. Stage 3 (structurally identical to Stage 0) is often followed by another instantiation of Stage 1, with the innovation of a new progressive marker Z. The trajectory to be explained is thus cyclic. The analysis I provide has a semantic component that characterizes the logical relation between the progressive and imperfective operators in terms of asymmetric entailment. Its dynamic component rests on the proposal that imperfective and progressive sentences crucially distinguish between two kinds of inquiries: phenomenal and structural inquiries (Goldsmith and Woisetschleger 1982). The innovation and entrenchment of progressive marking in languages is shown to be underpinned by optimal ways of resolving both kinds of inquiries in discourse given considerations of successful and economic communication. Generalization is analyzed as the result of imperfect learning. The trajectory — consisting of the recruitment of a progressive form, its categorical use in phenomenal inquiries, and its generalization to imperfective meaning — is modeled within the framework of Evolutionary Game Theory.