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  • Predicate compounding in the Yi group: The continuum of grammaticalization by Matthias Gerner
  • Jamin R. Pelkey
Predicate compounding in the Yi group: The continuum of grammaticalization. By Matthias Gerner. (Studia typologica 3.) Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2002. Pp. 149. ISBN 3050037326. €69.80.

From mathematical models to spiritual symbols, metaphorical processes enable the communication of infinitely complex relationships; yet no system is more dependent on metaphor than human language. In Predicate compounding in the Yi group, Matthias Gerner combines technical metaphorical analysis with groundbreaking research on verbal concatenation in the Yi languages of Southwest China. Through this fusion of theory and description, he demonstrates how metaphorical processes interact with language even at the micro-level—conditioning grammatical change within verb compounds.

Nested within the Tibeto-Burman branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family, the ‘Yi group’ is largely unresearched and contains scores of distinct languages and dialects, all of which are characterized by verb-final syntax and an analytic typology. G draws numerous examples of predicate compounding from eleven Yi languages and further complements these examples with data from better-known Sino-Tibetan languages such as Burmese, Lahu, and Mandarin. He approaches this rich corpus of data with an eclectic blend of theories and perspectives, prominently including Simon Dik’s theory of functional grammar and George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s theory of cognitive metaphor.

With these tools in hand, G specifically focuses his attention on dual-predicate (PP) compounds and subsequently establishes a ‘continuum of grammaticalization’ for the Yi languages. Basically, this continuum is a metaphor-conditioned process through which languages with scant morphology develop grammatical particles for the expression of complex relationships. G’s continuum for the Yi group consists of three PP compound classes: lexical PP, metaphorical PP, and uncoupled PP (listed in order of decreasing semantic content and increasing grammatical function).

After introducing his subject matter in the first chapter, G proceeds to engage in separate discussions of each PP compound class in Ch. 2, which contains both the majority of his data and the substance of his general argument.

G’s first class, lexical PP compounds, consists of two verbs working together to portray numerous relationships—most notably purposive (e.g. plant-go = ‘go to plant’) and spatial (e.g. exit-come = come out) relationships. Verbal relationships in this class are not actualized through metaphorical processes.

G’s second class, metaphorical PP compounds, however, consists of a P1 verb and a P2 ‘versatile’ (cf. ‘auxiliary’) working together in a metaphorical relationship, for example, one expressible as ‘STATES OF AFFAIRS are OBJECTS’. Interestingly, such a metaphorical relationship is consistently conditioned by the versatile component of the compound (P2), which may, in other contexts, act either as a main verb or as a grammatical particle. Thus, metaphorical PP compounds represent the middle ground of a process through which verbs are enabled to function as grammatical particles. [End Page 525]

G’s third class, uncoupled PP compounds, consists of a verb (P1) and a verbal particle (P2) that has, through time, surrendered its original verbal meaning. As a result, compounds in this class may only be established through historical and comparative methods, drawing clues from verbs and versatiles in related Yi languages. In compound constructions of this class, the (P2) ‘uncoupled’ versatile has become a true particle representing a metaphor of ‘connection’ or ‘disconnection’ that ultimately expresses a result state of some kind.

G concludes the book in his third chapter by examining other properties of versatiles and by arguing for a Sprachbund, or ‘language alliance’, approach to understanding the relationships between the diverse language families of Southwest China. While these language families are phonologically distinct, they share many common features due to language contact. One such common feature, G contends, is the continuum of grammaticalization itself.

Jamin R. Pelkey
SIL International


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pp. 525-526
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