How Grammaticalization Works With Adpositions
Posted: Feb 03, 2017
Linguists have been studying grammaticalization for decades and they have been rather successful at reaching some pretty good theories concerning how languages develop new rules in grammar. In the past, grammar and lexicon were thought to be sort of two separate realms and words moving from one category to another was seen as impossible, especially when it comes to full-fledged grammatical objects such as verbal and nominal declension suffixes. Linguists believed for a long time that many rules of grammar had been in the language since whatever beginning and that they had remained in existence, although perhaps going through phonetic change. Today, thanks to extensive study of grammaticalization, we know that adpostions, cases and verb tenses are actually descended from nouns and verbs that are long forgotten.
As said above, one of the grammatical elements that develop out of lexical categories through grammaticalization are the adpositions. There is no real definition of an adposition and it is not unseen of linguists coming up with varying definitions that fit the needs of the languages they are studying. Sometimes new research can reveal new types of adpositions in a previously unstudied language and a new definition becomes an imperative. Still, it is possible to tell what an adposition is, in general terms. Adpositions add a spatiotemporal edge to the sentence and in fully grammaticalized adpositions the meaning can be complex and even abstract, as we see in the English preposition "by".
Grammaticalization of adpositions works in a way that is rather similar to any other parts of speech with one difference. Adpositions usually develop out of nouns and most of the time, the original noun is something that refers to a location such as a body part or a geographical feature. Now, the unique thing about the way adpositions grammaticalize from nouns is the genitive stage. The first stage of the grammaticalization of an adposition is called this because the noun at this stage enters a genitive construction to refer to a spatial relatioship, exactly as we see in "on top of", where "top" is a noun that has just set out on a journey to become an adposition. There are examples of this in so many languages including European languages, Arabic, Chinese and even Persian. Indeed, the grammaticalization of persian adpositions need to scrutinized closely by those interested in understanding how grammaticalization works.
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