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Reviewed by:
  • Degrammaticalization
  • Paolo Ramat
Degrammaticalization. By Muriel Norde. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. Pp. xviii, 270. ISBN 9780199207930. $39.95.

Before this comprehensive book, Muriel Norde had already published an extensive number of articles on grammaticalization and related phenomena. She now offers in the introductory chapter of this book an exhaustive report on the state of the art concerning grammaticalization and its (alleged) counterpart degrammaticalization. The references extend from p. 239 to p. 258 and no relevant contribution is neglected.

The introduction (Ch. 1) contains preliminary definitions of grammaticalization and degrammaticalization, and discusses some related concepts such as lexicalization, reanalysis, and analogy, and controversial types of grammaticalization, such as ‘secondary’ grammaticalization, pragmaticalization, and clause combining. After a short section dedicated to context and constructions, the final part of the introduction deals with methodological issues: is grammaticalization a theory? N agrees with Bernd Heine, Tania Kuteva, and Östen Dahl that grammaticalization can be ‘regarded as a process with a dynamics of its own’ (31). This position is contrary to Newmeyer’s (1998) and Fischer’s (2000) view that grammaticalization is ‘essentially an epiphenomenal result of independent historical developments’ (Newmeyer 1998:235) such as semantic change, phonetic reduction, reanalysis, and metonymic and metaphorical processes. In Fischer’s words, ‘I still cannot see that there is room for a separate or “independent” process of grammaticalization’ (2000:152).

In Ch. 2, ‘Unidirectionality’, N directly tackles the problem of degrammaticalization and argues that at no linguistic level can unidirectionality (which means irreversibility of grammaticalization paths) be stated in an absolute way. The aim of the book is to prove that degrammaticalization (e.g. from a grammatical word to a content item) does exist at all language levels. In a previous article of mine against grammaticalization as a unidirectional path (Ramat 2001), I gave a fairly long list of examples of degrammaticalization and commented that ‘[t]he list of degrammaticalizations could be continued, revealing that this process, although not as frequent as its reverse, is by no means irrelevant in language and therefore it cannot be simply dismissed as “exception to the general rule of grammaticalization” ’ (396). Other counterexamples to unidirectionality can be drawn from the perspective of discourse markers as illustrated by Schiffrin (1987). For instance, English deed of indeed was originally a lexical noun and meant ‘action’. In Early Middle English (EMdE) it is often used as a formulaic expression (‘in action’) in PPs. These contexts allow us to think that an event ‘in action’ has to be observable, too. This inference entails the emergence of an epistemic meaning: ofte in storial mateer scripture rehersith the commune opynyoun of men, and affirmeth not, that it was so in dede (lit. ‘often in historical matters scripture repeats the common opinion of men, and affirms not, that it was so in fact’) ‘often where matters of history are concerned, scripture repeats men’s common opinion, but does not affirm that it was so in actuality [rather than opinion]’ (from Traugott 1995:8; source: c. 1388 Purvey Wycliffe Prol I, 56 (HC)).

At its first stage, indeed is an adverbial phrase, frequently used in contrast to ‘opinion’ or ‘untruth’. The syntactic sentential scope is reached at the beginning of the EMdE period when indeed reinforces another adversative conjunction in sentence position: somtyme purposely suffring [allowing] the more noble children to vainquysshe, and, as it were, gyuying to them place and soueraintie, thoughe in dede the inferiour chyldren haue more lernyng (Traugott 1995:9; source: 1531 Governor, p. 21 (HC)). [End Page 979]

By the seventeenth century indeed starts appearing alone in clause-initial position, that is, in discursive—and not in grammatical—function. It serves to confirm or to amplify a previous statement. Moreover, the inferential process that this marker undergoes is closely dependent not only on the speaker evaluation, but also on the hearer’s recognition (subjectification and intersubjectification).

A quotation from Harris and Campbell (1995), which I used in Ramat 2001, is of methodological relevance: ‘no reasonable theory can ignore data just because they are inconvenient: an adequate theory must account for infrequent phenomena, not merely for the most common patterns’ (338). Similarly, N critiques (106f.) Haspelmath, who claims: ‘If one is interested in...


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