In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Grammaticalization

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Textbooks
  • Edited Collections
  • History
  • The Universal Cline Hypothesis
  • Reduction as a Concomitant
  • The Unidirectionality Hypothesis
  • Degrammaticalization and Asymmetries
  • Mechanism
  • Conditions
  • Early Minimalist Accounts
  • Recent Minimalist Accounts
  • Reanalysis of Specifiers as Heads
  • Extensions

Linguistics Grammaticalization
D. Gary Miller, Elly van Gelderen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 January 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 January 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0019


The essence of grammaticalization is the evolution of a lexical category to a grammatical one or of a hybrid/functional category to another grammatical category. The first involves changes such as that of the verb have from “possess” to the marker of the perfect tense. The second involves changes such as that of to from a preposition (a hybrid category in English) to an infinitive marker or such as that of a demonstrative (e.g., the Latin ille ‘that’) to a definite article (the Italian il, the Spanish el, and so on). These changes have attracted attention for hundreds of years and are very well known. More recently, additional conditions and stipulations have been placed on this leading idea, but the essence remains the same.

Introductory Works

The fundamental insight of grammaticalization (also called grammaticization) is grammation, a change from lexical to grammatical content via reanalysis of a lexical item to be merged in a functional category, as emphasized in Andersen 2008. Meillet 1912 and Kuryłowicz 1965 argue that grammaticalization is a change from lexical to grammatical content or from hybrid/grammatical to other grammatical content. Joseph 2005 shows that there are many definitions of grammaticalization, but Traugott 2003 gives the most common one: “the process whereby lexical material in highly constrained pragmatic and morphosyntactic contexts is assigned grammatical function, and once grammatical, is assigned increasingly grammatical, operator-like function” (p. 645). Functionalists have focused on the goal of grammaticalization theory, which Kuteva and Heine 2008 depicts as “to describe the way grammatical forms arise and develop through space and time, and to explain why they are structured the way they are” (p. 215). Grammaticalization theory, as endorsed by most functionalists, is criticized in Lightfoot 2003 and other generativists. It involves a chain of concomitants of grammaticalization that are themselves in need of explanation. See The Universal Cline Hypothesis and other sections in this bibliography.

  • Andersen, Henning. 2008. Grammaticalization in a speaker-oriented theory of change. In Grammatical change and linguistic theory. Edited by Thórhallur Eythórsson, 11–44. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

    DOI: 10.1075/la.113

    Offers numerous analyses of grammaticalization, with detailed discussion of the individual changes involved, and separates out reduction processes.

  • Joseph, Brian D. 2005. How accommodating of change is grammaticalization? The case of “lateral shifts.” Logos and Language 6:1–7.

    Discusses some possible additional types of grammaticalization.

  • Kuryłowicz, Jerzy. 1965. L’évolution des catégories grammaticales. Diogenes 51:54–71.

    Follows Meillet 1912 in treating grammaticalization as a change in content from lexical to grammatical or from grammatical to other grammatical.

  • Kuteva, Tania, and Bernd Heine. 2008. On the explanatory value of grammaticalization. In Linguistic universals and language change. Edited by Jeff Good, 215–230. Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199298495.001.0001

    A strictly diachronic approach to change; the only putative constraint is unidirectionality.

  • Lightfoot, David. 2003. Grammaticalization: Cause or effect? In Motives for language change. Edited by Raymond Hickey, 99–123. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511486937.008

    Discusses grammaticalization and its effects.

  • Meillet, Antoine. 1912. L’évolution des formes grammaticales. Scientia (Rivista di scienza) 12.26: 384–400.

    The seminal work that spawned a hundred years of work on grammaticalization. Reprinted in Meillet, Linguistique historique et linguistique générale (Paris: Honoré Champion, 1965), pp. 130–148.

  • Traugott, Elizabeth C. 2003. Constructions in grammaticalization. In The handbook of historical linguistics. Edited by Brian D. Joseph and Richard D. Janda, 624–647. Oxford: Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470756393

    Argues for a tightly constrained context in which grammaticalization must occur.

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