Ashwini Colloquium

March 14
Rosenwald 011
Yale University
The semantic and pragmatic underpinnings of grammaticalization paths: The progressive and the imperfective

In this talk I offer an analysis of a robustly attested semantic change in which progressive markers ``spontaneously" emerge in languages, get entrenched in the grammatical system, and diachronically grammaticalize into imperfective markers. The facts can be schematically described as follows: At Stage 0, a linguistic system L possesses a single imperfective or neutral aspectual marker X that is used to express two contextually disambiguable meanings alpha and beta. At Stage I, a progressive marker Y arises spontaneously in L in order to optionally express alpha. At Stage II, Y becomes entrenched as an obligatory grammatical element for expressing alpha while X is restricted in use to expressing beta. At Stage III, Y generalizes and is used to express both alpha and beta. X is gradually driven out of L.

The analysis has a semantic component that characterizes the logical relation between the progressive and imperfective aspects in terms of asymmetric entailment or as a privative contrast. Its dynamic component proposes that imperfective and progressive sentences crucially distinguish between two kinds of inquiries: phenomenal and structural inquiries (building on Goldsmith & Woisetschlaeger 1982). The innovation, entrenchment, and generalization of progressive marking in languages is shown to be underpinned by optimal ways of resolving both kinds of inquiries in discourse given considerations of successful and economic communication.