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By Stephen Shimanek . Last update : 18 June 2007.

translation of Grammaticalisation by Aliyah Morgenstern

Though theoretical interest in grammaticalization is not a new phenomenon, research in the 1970s permitted both a return to a diachronic perspective and considerable developments in theorizing the pragmatic dimensions of grammatical markers. We speak of grammaticalization in child speech when verbal performance becomes "more grammaticalized" due to the presence of grammatical markers and syntactic structures. As such our use of this notion is also an accepted extension of it, insofar as we are employing it not to speak of the evolution of the language of a group, but to describe the evolution of an individual’s language.

Like researchers working on grammaticalization in the more traditional sense (Cf. Meillet 1912), we are trying to understand the motivation underpinning this phenomenon:

-  Why does a child start to use the preposition à at 2;3, when up to then he was perfectly happy to juxtapose two lexical terms?

-  Why will that same child begin using parce que at 2;4, despite his mother’s perfect comprehension when he simply juxtaposed predications by parataxis?

Children do not simply pick these grammatical markers up wholesale from the environing language, they also reaffect those forms they have heard to other functions (like marking different degrees of agentivity, or different perspectives through the use of several forms of self-designation — me, first name, 3rd person pronoun, 2nd person pronoun — to say I).

Moreover, children "create" forms to grammaticalize categories not expressed in the environing language. In English, some children express the difference between inherent and temporary properties with the suffixes -ed / -y (e.g. crumbed/crumby E.V. Clark, unpublished journal), despite the lack of a morpheme expressing such a dichotomy in the adult language.

Like other researchers working on grammaticalization in diachrony, we are thinking of a semantico-pragmatic interpretation, but one which emphasizes the child’s "expressive desire" (Prévost 2003) in a dialogic situation, and thus the discursive role of these emerging grammatical markers. This leads us to work on the concept of grammaticalization not so much for the resulting values as for the process itself, an evolutive phenomenon, marked in chilren’s utterances.

The idea, then, is to compare the process of grammaticalization described in diachronic linguistics with the emergence of grammaticality in child speech.


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