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Universality of grammar and grammatical universals (3)

von August Dauses


Chapter 1: Isolating versus inflecting and agglutinating languages
Chapter 2: Grammatical morphemes as relative indicators and concomitant phenomena
Chapter 3: Grammatical marking, classification and word formation
Chapter 4: Grammar and linguistic history
Chapter 5: Schematic, pleonastic and secondary usage
Chapter 6: New categories - new redundancies

5. Schematic, pleonastic and secondary usage

The development of 'weak' grammatical morphemes which are used highly schematically and therefore also pleonastically-redundantly, has also always to be regarded against the background of the history of a language and is therefore by no means universal. The higher the number of such grammatical morphemes and markings, the more complex the grammar in question becomes, and this complexity increases considerably by the fact that these morphemes develop in turn a number of uses and norms, and the more intricate the net of markings, the more complex become the mutual delimitations and subnorms.

Such complex rules of usage and mutual delimitations derive paradoxically from the fact that grammatical marking is to a certain degree schematic, which can go as far as obligatory use, and this schematic way of using them is at the same time the expression of low regard for these weak morphemes which are often lacking in information and which are therefore used according to certain rules. We could actually expect that such morphemes follow very simple rules so that their performance is in direct proportion to complexity (low performance, simple rules). But especially in our inflecting languages, such an economic behaviour cannot be detected. We notice their high complexity at the latest when we start learning another Indo-European language. Even after years of intensive training, we don't manage to reach perfection.

The complexity of the grammar of inflecting languages is then paradoxically linked to the schematic use of grammatical morphemes, but, once more we cannot establish a direct proportional link between schematic and idiomatic use and therefore schematically used morphemes develop just as many sub-uses as those which are less schematically used. In other words: our grammars always remain highly complex and when, in some cases, they seem to simplify, they develop new and complex rules of usage elsewhere. We would like to illustrate this point briefly in the following:

We mark (schematically) the predicative verb with a personal ending or a subject pronoun (Latin canto, English I sing), which leads to the fact that such a marking is also used analogously in those cases in which the verb does not even refer to a person nor to an object (Latin pluvit, English it rains), so that it can't be an anaphoric usage either. And the (cataphoric?) pronoun in English it seems that…, it is good for you to… seems also to be totally without function. Analogously to the marking of the subject as far as the verb is concerned, the object pronoun became also more frequent, and, in turn, a conjunction developed from its abstract anaphoric use (I say that: he comes > I say that he comes), which might have been encouraged by a free syntax (He comes. I say that. > I say that: he comes).

Virtually a prime example of highly schematic and, at the same time, highly idiomatic usage is the (definite and indefinite) article: in the different Germanic and Romance languages, it has developed a number of usages which cannot be deduced anymore from the anaphoric function it used to have (cf. French l'amour - English love; French aller à l'école - English to go to church; French retourner pour le déjeuner - English to go home for lunch; French le lundi - English Monday; French le parlement décide - English Parlament decides etc.). The complexity of the usage of such a grammatical morpheme which carries only little information cannot be explained positively from its functions, but conversely, it has to be explained from the little attention which the speaker devotes to these weak signs, and which he therefore also uses analogously in cases where they don't convey any further new information. From one analogy to another, new norms and subnorms emerge, which, on the whole, leads to a complexity which a native speaker is not even aware of. The speaker compensates for this by memorising the collocations in question; and this exactly is the reason why he would have huge problems if asked to explain this kind of usage to another person. In this way, an increasingly schematic usage makes analogous transition easier and encourages the development of new idiomatic uses! An increasingly schematic usage leads also to the speaker manoeuvreing himself into a dilemma (which, however, is not experienced as a real problem): in the Romance languages, the imperfect is fairly easily and schematically delimited from the perfect by the fact that it expresses a state or an action in progress at a certain point in time (in contrast to the starting point of an action). This means, however, that there isn't any neutral form anymore, there is no past tense anymore which marks neither the starting point nor the state of an action. Nonetheless, there are contexts and situations, which cannot easily be forced into this basic pattern, so that the question arises which tense the speaker is supposed to decide on. Modal auxiliaries ('want, should, must') are such cases in which the distinction between the starting point of an action and the state is difficult to make, so that, here again, specific norms for the usage develop, though to a varying degree, even within the Romance languages.

The characterisation of a person doesn't fit very well either into the pattern: starting point of an action vs. state at a certain point of time, and therefore, the usage varies in this case in the Romance languages (cf. French N. fut/était un génie - Spanish Fue/era hermosa). Schematic usage on the one hand leads to idiomatic usage on the other hand: there is no neutral form anymore, so that, inevitably, there are also neutralising effects: both forms are, at least potentially, equal in value.

In many languages, a present perfect differs from a simple past tense roughly in that it describes an event, which - at least from the point of view of the speaker - is not followed by a further one, so that, in many cases, it is only the result which is to the fore (Kolumbus hat Amerika entdeckt; ich habe das Brot gekauft; er ist weggegangen). But not in all cases, this distinction can be drawn without problems, especially if a point of time in the past is mentioned or implied, therefore we ask in English: When did you buy the bread? whereas in Spanish we can also use the perfect tense: Cuando has comprado el pan?, cf. English I bought the bread in London (the place implies an indication of time) vs. Spanish He comprado el pan en Londres. And between the more or less fixed and obligatory usages of the perfect tense and the preterite, there is also a number of fluctuating usages and varying affinities in these two and other languages, which could also be treated as a matter of stylistics.

In French, we could try to distinguish a simple future and a periphrastic future (j'irai - je vais aller) on the grounds of temporal distance (distant future - near future), all the more considering that the periphrastic future is derived from an action which has already begun (je vais…). But such a pattern is soon to be dissolved again because the criterion of proximity and distance can't be determined objectively. What, for someone, lies within reach, might for others lie in the far distance. Again, more complex subnorms and varying affinities between certain situations and the usage of tense forms develop, including also (modal) nuances.

In the English language, the progressive form indicates schematically that an action is in progress at a certain point in time, especially when used for actions and events which can be interrupted (I saw him when he was going home). So, it is by no means only used to mark the progress of an action which otherwise wouldn't be discernible, but also in those cases in which the context in itself would be sufficient to convey the meaning (cf. other languages without any such marking!). This pleonastic and redundant use (cf. chapter six for its development), in turn, makes analogous extensions easier: pleonastics makes easier further usages: I am speaking the truth! You are telling lies! The child is constantly crying! or: The United States are saying that… And if certain subnorms become increasingly frequent we also talk about a linguistic development: in this sense, the grammars of inflecting languages are constantly in the process of progress or development; at least, many times more than the isolating languages, in so far as one can speak of grammar at all in those languages. The weak grammatical morphemes of our languages are often used schematically, approximately and analogously and not only in those cases when a certain indicator is indispensable in the context!

Schematic usages are per se analogous usages and this is why the concept of analogy plays such an important role in the inflecting languages. But also such grammatical morphemes which are used less schematically, that is not according to a more or less simple pattern, have analogous rules of usage including numerous secondary usages and subnorms. First and foremost, this is true for all categories which are still in the process of development (cf. chapter six) and which, therefore, haven't found a fixed place in the structure of the language, which are, so to speak, not yet firmly established. So, in most cases, they cannot be used schematically yet, according to a simple usage rule. This simple usage rule (with all its exceptions) is only the result of a settling process, of a gradual approximation of different uses, among which the speakers find a common denominator. And, as we will see later, this again has to do with the fact that new markings are not produced in an act of creation to express a certain signification or a distinction, but that, conversely, they are interpreted from the context, so that, right from the beginning, they only express pleonastically that which exists already as signification in the context.

A new tense, a new marking of aspect or an emerging article have by no means a fixed place in the 'system' of grammar right from the beginning, so that we had better speak of fragile norms and subnorms, and some markings also remain permanently fragile in the sense that they don't develop any fixed usage rules nor even obligatory usages. In contrast to the progressive form in English, the analogous forms in Spanish and Italian are still optional today (estoy cantando / sto cantando - 'I am singing'), and in contrast to the so-called partitive article in French (which has also taken over the function of the plural), the partitive article in Italian is only an optional variant. And just as, for all obligatory uses, one has to know especially all the exceptions and special usages, in this case, one has to know the norms and subnorms for all usages. This applies likewise also to the segmentation in modern French (les fleurs, c'est joli; moi, je travaille; je l'ai vu hier, ton frère). Grammatical morphemes and constructions are used approximately, schematically and analogously, and if they have once become obligatory, this does only mean that analogous usages will increase drastically so that it becomes more and more difficult to distinguish subnorms in this intricate network of usages. That is why the rule for the different uses becomes broader and more schematic, and this exactly leads to the development of obligatory usage. The actual question would now only be to know under which circumstances such increases in frequency have occurred.

But not every obligatory usage of a grammatical form can be understood as a mere balancing between numerous sub-usages and subnorms which goes hand in hand with an increase in frequency. Especially in the Indo-European languages, there are also fragmented and, at the same time, obligatory usages which contradict any idea of economic and simple language structures; we especially think of the so-called governed forms, that is governed cases, governed prepositions or the governed subjunctive in the Romance languages (French je veux que tu viennes). Such phenomena cannot easily be explained rationally either, because, in many cases, they occur by means of irrational and sporadic analogies: and these, in turn, are possible in those cases where the morpheme in question loses its separate meaning or passes it on to the governed sign. The governed morpheme becomes then the, so to speak, allomorphic concomitant form of the governing morpheme with which it is more or less exclusively memorised. A governed subjunctive is a mode which is still kept in use although it doesn't provide any new information in itself and has become redundant (Latin rogo te ut venias), this is why it is more and more frequently memorised with the governing sign, so that it can still be used even though the original sense has been completely lost (timeo ne veniat > non timeo ne veniat). And this is why, on the one hand, analogies occur in the history of a language to some extent schematically, if, for example, verbs with similar meaning (of desire, of fear, of hope) behave in some similar way (that is they also 'request' the subjunctive), on the other hand, however, they occur also sporadically and in some rather bizarre way, if no longer the signification, but the construction in itself becomes the trigger of the mode: in Latin, there used to be a subjunctive of anteriority which expressed the potentiality of the event in question (antequam de re publica dicam - 'before I can talk about the state'), but in the Romance languages, it was generalised as a concomitant form of this anteriority (French avant qu'il soit venu), so that the original condition (potentiality) was lost. The subjunctive became therefore associated with anteriority or in even more general terms: associated with temporal relations, so that it could later also be used analogously to express posteriority (après qu'il soit venu). While the fragmentation of uses still increases, the mode in itself loses more and more of its original meaning and is only memorised as a concomitant form of certain verbs and constructions. And exactly because of this demotivation and semantic emptying, it is very difficult to cut back its usage: the analogies are no longer linked with meaning (in contrast to the usage of the subjunctive in old English, for example, which was still more 'motivated'), they don't adopt the original meaning of this mode anymore but they develop sporadically and in a fragmented way, and if, in one place, the subjunctive is replaced by the indicative, the indicative will be superseded by the subjunctive in another place. For the speaker, both forms have long since become equivalent, just as allomorphic forms.

Likewise, this is also true for governed cases and governed prepositions (Latin in templo, ex silva, ante portas; English to think of, to worry about, to strive for, to aim at etc.). The more 'empty' such morphemes become, the less we can still speak of secondary usages. Consequently, the schematic usage of a morpheme which carries meaning turns into a schematic memorising with certain trigger signs; analogies are no longer 'systematic', but sporadic and mutually independent.

Grammatical morphemes are weak signs to the extent that they are used schematically, approximately and analogously, and not only when they are absolutely necessary. But to the extent that they are not only used where they are absolutely indispensable, the listener gets used to them and qualifies them in turn by devoting less attention to them. In many cases, they are only dispensable concomitant signs and often, they have to be interpreted anew with regard to the context (cf. e.g.: Meine Eltern haben mir neue Möbel gekauft. Sie sind sehr lieb.). In view of the constant usage of subject pronouns in English or in German, for example, metaphoric usages also attract less attention. If a nurse says to a patient: Wir gehen jetzt ins Bett!, we instantly grasp the meaning of this imperative. In the Japanese language, which only uses these pronouns when they are absolutely necessary, a literal translation of this sentence would lead to a grave misunderstanding! Conversely, redundant markings and constructions can also generate secondary usages if they are used without redundancies and have new meanings. A modal future (French il sera dans le jardin) develops, for example, if there is no explicit or implicit point in time in the future in the context which the future form could anaphorically refer to. What remains is the interpretation in the sense of a certain uncertainty or probability. Similarly, this is also true for the use of the future to express an imperative meaning in French (tu ne tuera pas! 'Thou shalt not kill!'). Such secondary usages are possible only in those languages which have a morphological and therefore pleonastic future tense, which can also be used side-by-side with a more specific adverb of future (tomorrow, I will go…), so that an 'elliptic' construction can again be used for other significations. In a language which only uses an adverb (e.g. 'later') instead of a future (that is for example, an isolating language) this adverb will never be used together with a further and more specific indicator of the future (*später morgen, *später in drei Tagen), so that in cannot be interpreted as anaphoric and neither as redundant! Though we expect a more specific indication in languages which have a morphological future, we don't expect the same in isolating languages. And this again has to do with the history of the inflecting languages, as we will see later on (chapter six): the future was not created by an act of creation to express future events and then used accordingly, but it developed from a construction, which, in a future context, was interpreted as a concomitant form of this indicator of future, so that the construction was pleonastic right from the beginning!

A modal usage of the conditional (ich würde sagen/ vorschlagen, wir bleiben zu Hause) is possible again, because the protasis, which we would expect, is missing (wenn es möglich wäre…). In an isolating language which only knows one conjunction expressing condition ('if'), this would not be possible at all (cf. in imitation: wenn Geld haben, dir geben - 'if I had money I would give it to you').

In languages with many redundancies, 'elliptic' constructions can be used in turn for new significations and stylistic effects. Thus, the lack of a copula is characteristic of aphorisms (omnia praeclara rara) or expresses astonishment (he tired - she tired), the missing of an object pronoun can mark a polysemy (he drinks).

Even the usage of an historical infinitive or an epic present tense instead of a past tense is a stylistic means which is only possible because the marking of the past would be pleonastic-redundant in the context. In isolating languages without any past tense, this would not be possible at all.

The French imperfect tense indicates that an action was in process when a new action set in (il sortait, quand je suis venu). But it can also be used literally if the context doesn't permit this usage (il sortait à 9 heures). This use becomes possible because of a number of 'secondary usages' of this imperfect tense (French Le trois mars, nous faisions une promenade. Nous sommes allés chez…), which were established before.

The grammars of our languages are full of examples of figurative or metaphoric uses. It seems to us that they have, to a great extent, a common root: pleonastic or redundant usages make it easy for analogous secondary usages to develop or, conversely, they give new meaning to 'elliptic' constructions.

All the factors which we have mentioned act in combination to make our grammar so complex and idiomatic and lead to numerous rules and exceptions which we don't have to expect in isolating languages. The many usages and sub-usages of grammatical morphemes in inflecting languages are characteristically different in any single language, but, in the end, they go back to the same elementary (grammatical) principle: pleonastic and schematic usage produces necessarily subnorms and sub-usages, and from such sub-usages new grammatical categories or morphemes can derive, which we will see in the following chapter.

6. New categories - new redundancies

There are languages which only have very few grammatical categories and markings, that is especially isolating languages, which are also very stable from a diachronic point of view, and other languages, especially inflecting ones, which have many grammatical categories and markings, which are also unstable from a diachronic point of view, because they generate new categories while, at the same time, losing others (e.g. cases or endings in general).

A lot of markings which are already very old are in many ways redundant, we only have to think of the cases or the prepositions, the number, the tenses and the personal ending as far as the verb is concerned, and besides, the Indo-European grammar has developed for thousands of years in so far as it has all the necessary markings at its disposal, which shows us also the comparison with other languages of the world which can do with few markings. If, within the framework of Indo-European grammar or grammars, we talk about development, this must not be understood in the sense of optimization: a language which has all the necessary at its disposal is already optimally equipped. Therefore, these developments were either shifts (from the cases to the prepositions or the syntax, from the personal ending to the pronouns), or substitutions (e.g. a synthetic tense by an analytical one) or the emergence of new categories and markings which had not been necessary previously, so that such developments could also be regarded as a kind of 'luxury' of our languages (new and additional tenses of the past or the future, aspectual markings, articles etc.). But, of course, 'luxury' does not mean that such categories could be eliminated easily later again: when they get established, they replace in turn other, older means and also develop more subtle new significations. But this does not mean that they were necessary, and therefore we cannot calculate whether they will develop and even less when they will develop, and we cannot predict precisely either how they will develop and thus get established in the language, apart from general probabilities which we will deal with later.

Up to now, we have also taken for granted that new grammatical morphemes and markings emerge at all, and that is especially those which are used with a certain regularity up to the so-called obligatory usage, and we have probably been rather surprised that they turn up more or less within the framework of that which already exists (new tenses, aspectual markings, pronouns).

We have already described the framework within which grammar moves universally in chapter 2: it is above all a matter of classifications and relations (also of temporal manner) which are conditions for the formation of a comprehensible sentence or text, that is for the cohesion in the sentence or in the text.

But we still have to explain why new morphemes and markings are used pleonastically again in a similar way, so that they, too, are not only used in those cases when they are absolutely necessary or when they are supposed to express emphasis, but again with differing regularity. This is the reason why we talk about grammatical morphemes in contrast to lexematic signs.

This new pleonastic usage is by no means obvious, and if we explain the development of an old tense by the fact that old auxiliary signs were simply necessary when, for example, there were not enough adverbs of time yet (e.g. gestern, morgen), and that these old auxiliary signs were still used when they had become redundant (gestern ging ich…), this explanation is no longer true for such tenses which have developed much later when the adverbs of time had already fully developed, and similarly, this is also true for markings of aspect (e.g. the English progressive form). One could expect especially of newly developing tenses that they are only used when they are really necessary or useful.

But since this is not the case and since the new tenses are used again schematically in a way that corresponds to the use of the old tenses, there is only one explanation: these new tenses are pleonastic right from the beginning, i.e. they mirror the contexts in which the signs occurred which were interpreted as a new tense. Thus, the new tense is not created to express something, for example a result (resultative perfect), but a sign which occurs in a context which describes the result of an action is interpreted as a concomitant form of this resultative action (*I have the bought book respectively I have bought the book). This resultative sense can, of course, also be expressed in a language with only one past tense, and that is by means of the context and the structure of the text: if no point in time is mentioned and no further action follows we can assume that the statement is still valid or that the action has consequences for the present (cf. Latin librum empsi, or Portuguese comprei o livro).

Thus, the new (analytical) perfect has not been created to distinguish actions which have consequences for the present from such which have no relationship to the present anymore. This was possible for a long time by means of the context. Perhaps it rather occurred in those contexts which already suggested the interpretation in the sense of a result, so that it was understood as an expression and, at the same time, as a concomitant form (!) of this signification. This development was encouraged, of course, by the present tense form have which, together with a past participle, refers to a past event.

The new tense is not used to mark a difference which otherwise would not have been possible to express, but it derives its meaning from the context in which it occurs, and therefore it becomes a concomitant form of such contexts, before, later on, it probably develops new usages (and 'emancipates itself').

That is why the pleonastic or redundant usage exists right from the beginning: the morpheme was not placed in a context to give it a new signification but, conversely, it was interpreted within the context. We will illustrate this principle with the example of a new future.

A second consideration follows: why do such new tenses not emerge in all languages in the world, or rather what circumstances favour the Indo-European languages? The answer is first and foremost of syntactic nature: the analytical perfect requires the existence of a syntactic construction consisting of a noun and an attributive past participle (*I have the bought book). If this syntactic construction is preserved while the contents change and become less prototypical (object + action executed upon the object) (*I have something planned), the attribute becomes the predicate as far as content is concerned (planned) and the original predicative verb (have, respectively I have) empties itself, but is preserved as part of an orthodox formation of a sentence with a finite verb.

Thus, this complex development also requires a complex construction which is preserved although it has long lost its original right (as regards content). The original predicative verb has only the (traditional) function to mark tense (present) and person, and this is why it is interpreted as mere concomitant form to the past participle of the verb (I have planned something).

This development could also be described as a process of semantic emptying, but it is no coincidence that, when a new tense emerges, it is always only the finite verb, that is the original predicative verb, which is emptied. But it has nonetheless still a function, because it marks the person and the tense and consequently, it preserves the tradition of Indo-European sentence constructions. There will never be a semantically empty lexeme! A very similar process is to be observed as far as the development of a new and analytical future is concerned (French. je vais chanter). The finite verb becomes the concomitant morpheme of the verb in the infinitive (chanter).

Again, specific syntactic conditions and developments are involved in this development. One condition is the fact that a finite verb is followed by a further verb in the infinitive. This cannot be taken for granted and it can only be understood in analogy to constructions with modal verbs (ich will/ soll/ muß gehen, or French je veux chanter > je vais chanter). A construction formed by verb + nominal form of a verb (ich gehe zum Singen/ Arbeiten/ Einkaufen), which we find in German, for example, can never become a new future, simply because the indication of the aim (… zum Einkaufen) makes sure that the verb keeps its meaning 'movement directed towards an aim'. Besides, otherwise the predicative verb would be missing. In our languages, a finite verb cannot become the future of a noun.

But thus, we only need a smaller 'mis-construction', that is once more a syntactic development, to deprive the verb 'to go' of its meaning 'movement directed towards a goal', to generate an 'empty' verb, cf. fictitiously: French. je vais en ville faire quelque chose > je vais faire quelque chose en ville. A little syntactic rearrangement is sufficient to turn the indication of direction into an indication of a place where something happens. The verb with the meaning 'to go' will lose more and more of its concrete meaning in such and analogous constructions, it will become the auxiliary morpheme of a new construction consisting of an 'empty' finite verb + verb in the infinitive. Consequently, complex syntactic conditions and developments are necessary to generate a new future. A development on a direct way, on the other hand, is difficult to imagine: a verb with the meaning 'to go', which expresses a movement directed towards an aim, cannot simply collocate nonsensically with other verbs (like 'to laugh', 'to cough' etc.).

Now we can see at the same time the reason why this new future also becomes a grammatical form, in the sense that it is used pleonastically-redundantly (je vais travailler demain): it was not created to mark the future tense in contexts which otherwise would be interpreted as present tense. It rather developed in contexts which already had a future meaning (je vais faire cela demain, je vais travailler en ville demain), so that the semantically emptied finite verb was more and more interpreted as mere concomitant form of such future events. And because this verb 'to go' originally indicated the beginning of an action ('I go, I am on my way'), this new future is associated especially with actions which will take place in the near future. Thus, it is the future context which is responsible for the interpretation of the morpheme as future, which therefore becomes a concomitant form of such contexts, before, later on, it can even be used without any other indicators of future (je vais le faire).

Thus, new grammatical markings are 'weak' right from the beginning in the sense that they adapt to the context, so that they become concomitant signs of this context.

The preservation of a construction in spite of the emptying of one of its elements is responsible for the creation of an adverbial suffix (French honnêtement). To the extent that, after the gradual decline of the cases, the ablative (honesta mente) was no longer understood as such, the adjective was interpreted as forming a unity with the little specific noun. And since the old noun (in the ablative case) had been pleonastic right from the beginning (laeta mente 'in a cheerful mind': one can only be cheerful in one's mind!), it could easily be used analogously (lentamente), whereby it was weakened even more until it was only understood as (mostly redundant) marking of the adverbial function. The decline of a marking on the one hand (case) encouraged the emergence of a new marking on the other hand.

Connected with the decline of the cases is the fact that the Latin bibere de vino (French boire du vin) was more and more interpreted as mere expression of an indefinite quantity. The partitive construction with de is interpreted as a variant of the accusative. The usage of this 'partitive article', however, is often already pleonastic-redundant insofar as, in most cases, the situation clarifies already that someone drinks only part of the wine which is available and not all of it.

Thus, often one could also say: N. trinkt Wein, and analogously this is also true for the plural (N. ißt Brötchen, French N. mange des petits-pains). Because of this weakness of the partitive article, an analogous usage is hardly noticeable (N. a visité des villes), even though, in such contexts, it is exactly not intended that someone would like to refer to a certain number of objects which actually exist (that is cities in this case). The partitive article and the plural have now become approximately equivalent, and, in French, this partitive article is later to replace the (indefinite) plural (une ville - des villes). A marking which had been slightly pleonastic right from the beginning expands (des villes) and ends up carrying on the tradition of the marking of the plural.

We have seen, so far, how new markings emerge when constructions are preserved formally, but have to be newly interpreted when one of the phenomena which are involved is emptied semantically so that it is understood as part of a signification, which, in turn, derives from the context in most cases, so that the new marking becomes pleonastic-redundant, and consequently, we speak of new grammatical categories!

But, the other way round, it may also happen that a pleonastic element is removed from a construction and newly interpreted. This requires, above all, a syntax which is not entirely rigid. This is how a new conjunction daß derived from an object pronoun: Du bist krank. Ich sehe das. > Ich sehe das: du bist krank. > Ich sehe, daß du krank bist. If the schematically used, anaphoric pronoun which does no longer refer to a concrete object at all, is used analogously also cataphorically, where it is even less useful, it can also be understood as a connecting link between both sentences and therefore as a conjunction, and eventually, it can be understood as the opening signal of the object clause, especially if there are further elements between verb and object pronoun (ich höre oft, daß er anständig ist). The distance from the verb encourages the sense of belonging to the following object clause.

In a similar way, the stressed and free subject pronoun in French could have developed from a usage of the dativus commodi, for instance: old French pense moi > pense souvent moi > pense souvent, moi. With increasing distance to the verb, the pronoun in the dative case, which isn't a 'real' dative at all, so that the pronoun can only be interpreted in connection with the verb (as 'intensification'), is more and more understood as a free additional element, and this free additional element is then felt as subject analogously to the personal ending (stressed, additional subject pronoun). Thus, it expresses, in a redundant way the function of the subject, which, in turn, is already expressed by the personal ending, so that the pronoun takes over an expressive and an emphasising function at the same time.

A conjunction to, which introduces the infinitive (he asked me to go), can be explained in simplified terms by the fact that an indication of an aim, which is originally linked to the verb, and even pleonastically with such verbs which already imply an aim (to ask to), is used more and more schematically (I want to go). Thus, they are weakened even more and finally they are more and more felt to be concomitant forms of certain verbs with a following infinitive. Their information tends towards zero, they become redundant concomitant forms. It is the free syntax which is finally responsible for the fact that anacoluthic constructions are less noticeable, too, so that the remaining constituents in the sentence are interpreted as a new syntactic unity. This is also a way in which a new grammatical category develops, cf. schematically: He was in the church, singing and praying. > He was, singing and praying, in the church > He was singing and praying and asking God… The emphasis is only on the action itself, the place of the action moves to the background. If such expressive constructions increase, a progressive form develops, which emphasises the action and its progress. The originally local verb (to be) becomes the copula of the verb in the gerund form. Again, the new (aspectual) marking is pleonastic right from the beginning, because it adapts to the context (anacoluthic construction, concentration on the verbal action). It can develop further from this basic pattern, so that also more specific rules for its usage emerge, but it always keeps its pleonastic-redundant character, because it is not only used to distinguish the progress of an action from a sequence of actions ('distinctive' function!), but also in those cases in which the context in itself is enough to avoid ambiguities. Thus, in many cases, the progressive form is only a concomitant form of a verbal action in progress. When a foreigner whose English is not very good doesn't use it, he will still be understood in most cases. In English, to do has become a similarly intensifying periphrastic construction (he does go home). Syntactic condition is again the construction consisting of a finite verb + verb in the infinitive; if the causative (to do) is emptied, the auxiliary verb will be considered as a concomitant morpheme of the verb in the infinitive (he does go), so to speak as an analytical marking of person and tense of this verb in the infinitive. This little specific periphrastic construction became later, with increasingly schematic usage, the periphrastic question and the periphrastic negation (do you go? I do not go). But, this last step of grammaticalization towards obligatory usage leads also towards the complete devaluation of the form.

We hope we were able to illustrate with the preceding examples how, especially in the Indo-European languages, new grammatical categories and markings develop again and again: A variety of forms is required (e.g. participle or gerund, past participle, different stems for 'rectus' and 'obliquus' as far as pronouns are concerned: ego - me), with a number of usages and sub-usages (e.g. dativus commodi), as well as the existence of constructions which also form a morpho-syntactical unit (finite verb + infinitive; congruency of the case in laeta mente), and in addition a flexible syntax. Thus old constructions can be dissolved and new ones can develop, or existing constructions can be re-interpreted as a new unit with a new signification while keeping an element which has only a syntactic justification (je vais aller, I do go home).

Languages with less morphological markings and less complex and intertwined constructions, especially isolating languages, have therefore little which could be dissolved or newly interpreted, and languages with a rigid syntax don't permit rearrangement and new classifications either.

We can ask ourselves now what these considerations have to do with our topic ('Universality of grammar, grammatical universals'). The Indo-European forms and categories are not universal, of course. But there are universal conditions on which new grammatical categories and markings can develop, that is those which are used highly schematically and pleonastically, just the same as one can state universally which functions and relations can be expressed by morphemes (cf. chapter two).

Two further questions follow, which we will only treat briefly: a) how integrated and obligatory can grammatical morphemes become, and b) can markings also disappear again, are grammaticalizations reversible?

The first question is already so complex that we can only mention briefly some aspects here: the question of integration in the 'system' of grammar (in structuralist terminology) seems to be especially dependent on one circumstance: can we find a simple rule according to which the grammatical morpheme in question can be used? This is not a problem as far as abstract indications of function (nominative case and accusative, genitive) and significations (conjunctions, relative pronouns) are concerned, but this is not the case to the same extent as far as morphemes are concerned which also convey additional meanings (we only have to think of the usage of competing tense forms, for example future tenses, or aspectual markings with their nuances). More subtle differences and nuances don't permit any schematic usage per se, because the speaker has to make additional decisions. Now, we could argue that such more subtle differences will disappear again when the usage becomes more and more schematic. The additional decision of the speaker is then limited to a minimum of considerations, as such a schematization of the usage can also be observed everywhere in the field of grammar. But it also comes up against limiting factors which are outside the morpheme in question, which has to be delimited and established within the 'morpheme field'. If the paradigmatic surroundings are already occupied, because there are already other morphemes at our disposal for similar purposes, it becomes more and more difficult to find a simple and schematic usage rule for the new morpheme. A partitive article which assumes the same function as the (indefinite) plural, will probably also develop usage norms, but they will always remain fragile, unless the older plural is replaced by this new form (as in French, in contrast to Italian, for example). This is true in a similar way for the future form in English and in French (e.g. futur proche and futur simple), or the synonymous possibilities to ask a question in French (Avez-vous…, est-ce que vous avez…, vous avez?) and quite a few things more. A lot of sub-usages and affinities (of tense to person, to adverbs of time etc.) develop in turn from this problem of mutual delimitation, the fragility (also diachronically) of which only proves once more that these 'stylistic' differences are by no means necessary and, at the same time, that the new grammatical morphemes and markings arise by no means from a need, but that they are due to coincidences in the history of a language. In this sense, the new categories and morphemes are also 'luxury phenomena'!

The difference between fully integrated and thus also obligatory markings and rather free or stylistic ones can very well be observed if we compare the English progressive form with its equivalents in Italian and in Spanish (I am singing - sto cantando - estoy cantando). The difference is surely founded on the conditions of these languages: the English form does not meet with an already established form of similar content and can expand without any obstacle. In the Romance languages, however, there exists already an imperfect tense which expresses the state or the progress of an action. It is therefore extremely difficult for the aspectual form to get established; it remains a stylistic variant of this imperfect (cantava/ cantaba - stava cantando/ estaba cantando) and this is why it does not expand in the present tense either, where the distinction between state/ progress vs. beginning doesn't play any role. In English however, the analogy to the usages in the past tense might have played a decisive role.

These brief indications may be sufficient here, so that we can turn to the second question: can grammatical markings also be cut back again or are they obligatory and fixed in so far as they can only be replaced by other markings. In other words: why can that which has once emerged not be replaced again? What, in the end, is the reason for this typological irreversibility, which shows that isolating languages will also remain isolating in the future and that inflecting, that is highly redundant languages will also remain pleonastic-redundant in the future?

This question has only been asked in passing so far, and this is why it was always taken for granted that some markings are of a more fragile nature (e.g. the marking of the adverb by -ly in English), and others are of a more stable nature (marking of the person, and also the tense, as far as the verb is concerned). We don't want to claim that we are able to see all possibilities of the languages of the world or merely of the Indo-European languages, but we would like to put forward a hypothesis which is pragmatically founded. It goes as follows: only that can be removed again which can be deduced from the context without any marking, without there ever being any ambiguities and misunderstandings. Thus, the marking of singular and plural is irreversible, because in I see the house. the singular cannot be taken for a plural and in I see the houses. the plural cannot be taken for a singular, so that any 'wrong' usage leads instantly to misunderstandings; in contrast to the Japanese language, we can no longer interpret flexibly and neither does the context give any explicit information as far as the number is concerned.

Neither can a tense of the past be removed again: Der Kaffee war kalt. is simply different from Der Kaffee ist kalt. We don't have any neutral verb forms anymore as far as tense is concerned (for the predicative verb), thus, the listener does no longer interpret with regard to the context, but orientates himself by the grammatical morpheme. Connected to this is the fact that a copula, too, at least in the past tense, cannot be cut back. There is no marking of the past tense other than the verb in the Indo-European languages.

The progressive form in English, however, was by no means necessary and it also developed only very late, but a potential reversal of the development including a more general usage of the simple form would also lead to misunderstandings.

Thus, the underlying hypothesis goes as follows: redundancy before risk. The speaker prefers to stick to a distinction before risking misunderstandings; therefore, the distinction between a definite and an indefinite article is hardly reversible even though it was hardly necessary at the time of its genesis; this is also the case because we have given up alternative possibilities of former times because of this development (cf. Latin homo quidam 'a certain person, some - not yet mentioned - person'!). Some usages of the article may fluctuate, but the basic distinction between 'mentioned - not yet mentioned' will be kept.

Thus, there is obviously no direct proportion between redundancy and fragility or, in turn, between information and stability: even few possible ambiguities are enough to preserve the category in question and to avoid its removal.

Thus is also preserved the marking of the person as far as the verb is concerned by means of an ending or a subject pronoun, which has the function of word formation as well as a grammatical function (marking of the subject). The schematic marking is economic for the speaker in so far as he doesn't have to decide constantly whether the marking is necessary in the context. The economy consists paradoxically in a pleonastic, thus not economic usage!

Thus, even such markings are preserved which are amalgamated with the lexeme, so that a reanalysis is no longer possible, cf. the adjective formation in French honnêtement. The removal of the suffix leads to a feminine form of the adjective, which would not be understood at all anymore if there was a sentence with a masculine subject (***Son père travaille honnête). This is the fundamental difference to the adjective formation in English with the suffix -ly, which uses adjective forms which are neutral as far as gender is concerned. Only such markings and distinctions are thus reversible which express purely pleonastically that which is already clear from the context without them. Even if there is no resultative perfect one can recognise the resultative character of a verbal action by the fact that no point in time is mentioned and that there is neither a succession of actions (I won the price). Such temporal distinctions could then also be removed again, and this is also true for further temporal distinctions, for instance between different future forms, which are, above all, of a stylistic nature, so that no ambiguities occur if one form replaces the other. Analogously, this is similarly true for pleonastic conjunctions (und, daß). Such purely pleonastic markings are by no means to be removed in any case, but they can be preserved for a very long time, as is shown by many languages. Therefore, the term economy only offers very few explanations for the area of grammar (and also of pleonastics and redundancy!).


In this piece of work, we have tried to explain in which functions and at which positions in the sentence or in the text grammatical markings, and also morphological markings can occur universally, and why, almost inevitably, they become pleonastic-redundant. These are, above all, functions in the sentence or in the complex sentence and (also temporal) relations, which the speaker always has to know if he wants to produce a meaningful sentence or text, so that the little additional effort for the marking isn't too much trouble either. The use of such markings, which are expression of a previous planning, becomes a schematic habit, so that they are used almost 'automatically', without considering the question whether they are absolutely necessary in the context or whether they are only pleonastic-redundant.

The concept of grammar which we have developed here, and which we put up for discussion, is primarily based on observations which derive from the comparison of isolating (and economic) with inflecting languages.

At the same time, it became clear how extremely complex our Indo-European grammar is, and how it is also connected to word formation. One further characteristic of this grammar is the syntactic freedom which, on the one hand, encourages the development of morphological markings right from the beginning (in contrast to isolating languages with inflexible syntax) and, on the other hand, also facilitates re-interpretations and shifts in structure and thus the development of new grammatical categories and markings, including the transfer of morphological markings onto syntax (cf. the disappearance of the cases in English or in the Romance languages).

Thus, this kind of grammar also remains in motion from a diachronic point of view, and where, on the one hand, markings disappear, on the other hand, new categories and markings appear. For different reasons, the development towards an economic and isolating language is excluded.

In the grammar of an inflecting language, the term development must therefore not be understood in terms of an optimization of the 'system'. Such developments don't pursue an aim either, but they consist in the very schematization of a usage (also to the detriment of another one, cf. replacements), so that we can ask ourselves at the very most what has caused this development.

Our concept of grammar sees itself first and foremost as a functionalism which is historically founded, but which does not look for a deeper meaning in all places, but which emphasises the high relativity of functions and differences especially in the grammar of our languages.

We hope to have given stimuli for further discussion.

(Translated by Ute Eckstein and Ulrike Schmidt).

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