Dissertation (University of York 2016)

Grammaticalization and

'lateral' grammaticalization:

new perspectives on

linguistic interfaces and functional categories

An abridged version can be found on my academic webpage

The following dissertation was completed at the University of York between September 2014 and January 2016. I was supervised by Professor Giuseppe Longobardi and Dr George Tsoulas and examined by Professor Peter Sells (internal) and Professor Elly van Gelderen (external: Arizona State University). The first version was submitted on the 4th January 2016 and was subject to minor corrections after my examiners' initial assessment. The corrected version was submitted on the 6th May 2016 and approved by my internal examiner on the 15th October 2016. The final version was deposited and published in the White Rose depository on the 20th November 2016. I have subsequently modified some of my ideas here in my presentation at the International Symposium on Verbs, Clauses and Constructions at the University of La Rioja in Logroño, Spain (2016), for which see my invited talks. Here is the abstract: 

Simpson and Wu (2002) analyze Chinese shi-de constructions and propose a new type of grammaticalization in the Minimalist framework called 'lateral' grammaticalization (LG). It is compared with Roberts and Roussou (R&R) (2003) and van Gelderen's (2004, 2011) Minimalist analyses of grammaticalization (henceforth 'standard' grammaticalization (SG)) and while both display 'structural simplification', as defined by R&R (2003:198-201) and van Gelderen (2011:13-21), LG does not display 'upward feature analysis', which is a diagnostic trait of SG (R&R (2003:200)). Rather, there is 'lateral feature analysis' where one functional category (e.g. D) is re-analysed as another (e.g. T) (S&W (2002:201-202)). Furthermore, while examples of SG regularly display semantic and morphophonological weakening (R&R (2003:218-229)), those of LG do not, which seems to suggest that 'upward feature analysis', not 'lateral feature analysis', is the cause behind weakening in grammaticalization. Bybee (2003, 2011) proposes that frequency is the main driving force behind weakening in grammaticalization, since as the grammaticalizing element undergoes weakening in semantics, it becomes compatible with a wider range of complements and hence rises in frequency which causes it to become automatised and lose morphophonological substance. There is therefore a causal relationship between semantic and morphophonological weakening ('parallel reduction hypothesis'/'co-evolution of meaning and substance' (Bybee et al (1994:17-21)). In my comparison between the Romance future (Latin infinitive + habere) (SG) and the Chinese copula shi (LG), it is discovered that 'upward feature analysis' in SG does indeed give rise to 'context expansion', namely a widening in the range of complementation (cf Bybee (2003)), which leads to rise in frequency and morphophonological weakening, while 'lateral feature analysis' in LG crucially leads to 'context reduction' which lowers the frequency of the grammaticalizing element and hence pre-empts its morphophonological weakening. Cross-linguistic patterns of weakening are examined and there seems to be a correlation between frequency effects in syntactic change and the rate of morphophonological weakening of functional elements in grammaticalization. This is significant, since it is widely assumed that functional elements are necessarily weak (cf Selkirk (1984:335-337)) when the evidence from a formal analysis of grammaticalization suggests that the empirical properties of functional elements, namely their differential rates of weakening, can (and should) be derived from their genesis, namely grammaticalization (SG/LG). This opens up new research questions which are left for future investigations.

Dissertation downloadable here:  

Keith Tse


Writing this dissertation was much harder than my previous one, since this one was research-based while the other was part of a taught programme. Throughout my research course at York, we were following a rigorous doctoral routine and were expected to be entirely independent and responsible for our own work, which did not always suit someone like me who likes to have structure and routine. As I wrote in the acknowledgements of this dissertation, 'it was a hard, difficult yet fruitful journey', since although this dissertation drove me mad most of the time, I did learn a huge amount about my topic and received some very constructive guidance from my mentors and colleagues at my department. I hold this dissertation very fondly in my mind, heart and soul. It was also an honour to be examined by Professor Elly van Gelderen, whom I had already met at two conferences earlier in the year. It is always nice to be examined by someone who has the same obsession about the same topic (in this case, formal historical syntax), and Elly is the world's expert on this. I only wish that we had been able to have a viva examination. The MRes at York is basically an abridged PhD with an identical course structure and examination procedure, yet while viva's are obligatory for PhD, MRes rarely requires a viva unless the topic is highly unusual and specific, which mine was not deemed so, despite my plea to my supervisors for one. I would have LOVED to have a viva with Elly and shout my ideas at her (in a totally non-threatening way, of course) and be shouted back by her, as we had done on the corridors of Agder and London in 2015, preferably over some nice nibbles and drinks too (courtesy to our department's pantry), which would have been much nicer than the snacks we had at Agder and London, which, in all fairness, was pretty good, though of no comparison to our department's wonderful pantry (!). I am sure that we would have had a terrific discussion for many hours (if not days) on all the small and fine details of Minimalism and grammaticalization which we both love. I also gather that PhD candidates are then taken out for a celebratory meal with their examiners and supervisors at a local restaurant of their own choice. If so, I would have invited Elly (and Peter and George and Pino) to my favourite Italian restaurant in York and continue our discussion there over some delicious food (though not alcohol, as I cannot think when I am tipsy/drunk!). What a shame that all this did not happen. No matter. Let's hope that I can be examined by her again and next time she will have to come and examine me face-to-face! 

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© Keith Tse (2015-) 

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London, United Kingdom