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The status of onset contexts in analysis of micro-changes

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Chapter Summary

König and Vezzosi (2004: 239) commented about work on grammaticalization that: ‘Very rarely … do we find detailed discussions of the onset contexts that set such a process into motion and the conditions that such contexts must meet’. However, understanding local context-derived inference is now a high priority in a number of areas of linguistics, ranging from computational semantics to discourse analysis of conversation to work on micro-changes in historical linguistics. In this paper I discuss the hypothesis that a subset of linguistic contexts, specifically ‘bridging contexts’, are a key factor in morphosyntactic change. I begin by outlining the history of the hypothesis, which originated in work on semantic change, and shifted emphasis from implicatures and invited inferences associated with a changing expression (e.g. Traugott and König 1991) to the linguistic contexts in which two (or more) meanings are possible, but one is ‘only contextually implicated’ (Evans and Wilkins 2000: 549). Subsequently Heine (2002) and Diewald (2002) hypothesized that the development of “bridging” or “critical” contexts is a necessary and distinct stage in grammaticalization, using synchronic variation as data I then go on to discuss the extent to which we can find evidence in diachronic corpora of English for these hypotheses. I also evaluate Hansen’s (2008) claim that in bridging contexts new meanings are backgrounded against Heine’s that they are foregrounded. Two case studies are presented: the development in late Middle English and Early Modern English of be going to with temporal meaning (e.g. Danchev and Kytö 1994), and of pseudo-clefts with ALL and WHAT (Traugott 2008a, 2010).



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