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The interaction of Components in a Functional Discourse Grammar account of
grammaticalization

Riccardo Giomi

University of Lisbon ILTEC (Instituto de Linguística
Teórica e Computacional – Lisbon)


1. Introduction
It is nowadays quite generally accepted that the main force behind the diachronic process of
grammaticalization should be seen in the conventionalization of an inference: constructions
acquire new meanings in specific contexts by way of an inference and gradually come to be
used in more and more contexts as that former inference becomes conventionalized. This
paper explores the idea that the usage-based nature of grammaticalization can be felicitously
accounted for within the framework of Functional Discourse Grammar (Hengeveld and
Mackenzie 2008), a typologically-based theory of language structure which conceives the
grammar as one component of a wider model of verbal communication, whereby the
Grammatical Component is always triggered by a Conceptual Component and constantly
interacts with a Contextual Component. Taken together with FDG’s explicit account of the
grammar-internal, structural aspects of the phenomenon, the proposed approach aims to offer
a comprehensive model of grammaticalization, allowing for a formal representation of the
whole grammaticalization process – from the synchronic, inferential mechanisms which trigger
it up to the ultimate outcomes of the functional and formal evolution of the grammaticalized
item.


2. Grammaticalization in FDG
FDG recognizes four separate but interrelated levels of grammatical analysis, dealing with
pragmatics (Interpersonal Level), semantics (Representational Level), morphosyntax
(Morphosyntactic Level) and phonology (Phonological Level). These are organized in a top-
down fashion in such a way that, in language production, each level governs all of the
following ones. The Grammatical Component as a whole is inserted into a wider model which
is designed in accordance with both psycholinguistic and empirical evidence. On the one hand,
the grammar is triggered by a Conceptual Component which elaborates pre-linguistic
communicative intentions to be translated into linguistic structures (see Levelt 1989); on the
other, it is flanked by a Contextual Component which stores the extra-linguistic knowledge
that has relevance for the selection of appropriate grammatical items and structures, as well
as the linguistic information received from the Grammatical Component in the course of the
exchange. The general outline of FDG is presented in Figure 1.


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As to their internal organization, all levels share a layered structure whereby hierarchically
higher linguistic units consist of (a configuration of) units of a lower layer and can be combined
with other units on the basis of the language-specific frames and templates available to the
operations of Formulation and Encoding. This multi-level, layered organization allows FDG to
draw strong predictions as regards both the functional and the formal evolution of linguistic
expressions. These predictions can be summarized as follows:

1. functionally, a grammaticalized item will typically (i) expand its scope from lower to higher
layers at the Representational or at the Interpersonal Level (Hengeveld 1989, 2011) and/or
(ii) develop from a representational into an interpersonal marker (Hengeveld and Wanders
2007, Souza 2009);
2. formally, grammaticalization follows the cline lexeme > lexical operator > operator (Keizer
2007), which, especially in fusional and agglutinating languages, tends to be reflected as a
movement from larger to smaller units at the Morphosyntactic and Phonological Levels.

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By capturing the unidirectionality of grammaticalization at both the functional and the formal
side, FDG gains a decisive advantage over other functionally-oriented theories of language
change: while these typically explain grammaticalization as directly rooted in the cognitive
endowment of human beings, FDG accounts show how grammaticalization patterns reflect the
same general linguistic structure as is observable synchronically across the languages of the
world, thus providing evidence for the existence of grammar-internal constraints on the
possible patterns. What has not yet been investigated in an FDG perspective are the
mechanisms which motivate individual steps in the meaning change of a construction,
triggering the process of grammaticalization (in which, it is commonly assumed, content
change precedes formal change).
As is maintained in the pragmatically-oriented literature on grammaticalization (see
Hopper and Traugott 2003: 71-99 for an overview), these mechanisms ultimately consist in
synchronic inferential processes which, as an effect of frequency, may become “firmly
associated” with a construction (Bybee 2006: 725) and thus give rise to new grammatical
meanings. Drawing on these presuppositions, the paper suggests that the conventionalization
of formerly inferential meanings is adequately described in terms of the multi-component
architecture of FDG, provided that the interaction between the Grammatical, Conceptual and
Contextual Components is re-interpreted in a broader and more dynamic fashion than is
assumed in the current model. This extended FDG model of grammaticalization rests on three
basic assumptions: (i) grammaticalization can be broken down into a sequence of stages,
which differ from each other as to the role played by each component in the selection (and
interpretation) of the grammaticalizing construction; (ii) the Contextual Component can be
understood as an “implicit common ground” which is shared and co-constructed by the speech
participants as the exchange unfolds (Mackenzie 2012: 427); (iii) the whole multi-component
system postulated by FDG does not work in isolation, but necessarily cooperates with a
general epistemological model of human inferencing, with information being sent back and
forth between the linguistic and the non-linguistic modules whenever this is needed for the
production and interpretation of utterances.


3. Grammar and context in an extended FDG model of grammaticalization
The approach proposed here is largely inspired by Heine’s (2002) context-pragmatic model of
grammaticalization, which splits the process of functional change into four stages, each of
which is defined in terms of a different relation between the new (or “target”) meaning and
the type of context in which this meaning occurs:


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In bridging contexts the construction still expresses its older (“source”) conventional
semantics, but a new meaning emerges by way of an inference suggested by particular
linguistic and/or situational factors. The new meaning can thus be conceived of as a function of
an underlying grammatical meaning plus certain specific features of the context in which the
construction is employed (see Comrie 1985: 26): only an inference of this kind, which affects
the meaning of one specific construction (and not that of the whole utterance), may trigger a
process of grammaticalization. One of the examples proposed by Heine (2002: 90) concerns
the grammaticalization of Swahili taka (‘want’) + infinitive into a “proximative aspect”
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marker,
which starts out in bridging contexts characterized by “a situation where a human subject
referent cannot really be assumed to ‘want’ what is described by the relevant predication.” A
literal interpretation is possible but unlikely, and the proximative meaning is foregrounded by
virtue of its greater contextual relevance:

(1) A- na- taka ku- fa
he- PRES- want INF- die
(i) ‘he wants to die’,
(ii) ‘he is about to die’

In an extended model of FDG, such inferential meanings find their place in the Contextual
Component, representing the output of a context-induced reinterpretation process which
takes place as the interpersonal and representational structures generated by the grammar
are incorporated into the common ground. This new meaning corresponds to the actual
communicative intention of the speaker – it is this meaning, and not the lexical one, that s/he
aims to communicate – and thus should be modelled within the Conceptual Component as
well. Finally, the linguistic and/or contextual factors which make the target meaning more
likely than the source one must also be included in the Contextual Component, as it is the

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In FDG, the proximative is analysed as a subtype of future tense rather than as an aspectual category.
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presence of such elements in the shared common ground that licenses the reinterpretation of
the construction. In the case at stake, the relevant piece of information is the general
assumption that human beings do not normally want to die, stemming from encyclopaedic
knowledge, which is incorporated into the context and computed by the Conceptual
Component in elaborating a non-literal communicative strategy. The whole process is
represented in Figure 3.
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In the switch-context stage, the target meaning is no longer derived inferentially – it cannot be
cancelled – but still needs to be supported by precise contextual and/or co-textual conditions;
these same conditions are incompatible with the older meaning, which obviously rules out any
grammatical analysis of the construction in terms of that meaning. This is thus the crucial step
in grammaticalization, whereby the former inference starts conventionalizing and the
construction comes to function as a grammatical marker encoding a new semantic or

2
Where (e) stands for Event and (x) for any concrete entity or individual. The figure only includes the
linguistic units and processes which are relevant to the inference foregrounding the target meaning.
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interpersonal category. For the Swahili proximative, this stage is represented by sentences
with inanimate subject referents:

(3) M- ti u- na- taka ku- anguka
C3- tree C3- PRES- PROX INF- fall
‘the tree is about to fall’ (Heine 2002: 90)

Again, we have a long-term information (the inanimacy of the referent) which accesses the
Contextual Component, enabling the emergence of the proximative meaning. But now this
background information itself rules out the original volitional meaning of taka, so that the new
meaning provides the only possible interpretation, and as such must be represented inside the
Grammatical Component. The construction now functions as a newly grammaticalized
representational marker, which directly translates the communicative intention to describe
the immediateness of the event, but can only be selected when the relevant contextual
condition is satisfied. It is thus the grammatical operation of Formulation, and not the
Conceptual Component, which computes the relevant information received from the
Contextual Component. Schematically,


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Finally, in stage IV the target meaning becomes fully conventional, which results in “context
generalization” (see Heine and Kuteva 2002: 2), i.e. in the loosening and loss of the linguistic
and contextual constraints present on that meaning in the previous stages. According to Heine,
the Swahili proximative marker has not achieved this final stage of grammaticalization, but
other African languages such as Tswana (Bantu) and Chamus (Nilotic) have done so: in these
languages, a de-volitive proximative marker can occur in any kind of context, including
contexts with human subjects which may or not be compatible with a lexical interpretation. As
to the FDG treatment of such highly grammaticalized markers, there is no need to invoke a
broader conception of the interplay between components than is usual in the standard model,
since Formulation no longer needs to consult any specific linguistic or contextual information
in order to select the operator. In other words, fully grammatical meaning is satisfactorily
accounted for by the theoretical apparatus of standard FDG.

In conclusion, the main advantage of the proposed model is that it offers a unified account of
both the unidirectionality of functional and formal patterns of grammaticalization –
enlightening their relation to general linguistic structure – and the pragmatic motivations of
grammaticalization processes – thanks to the application of the multi-component approach to
the emergence and conventionalization of new meanings. In the final paper, I will further
elaborate on the theoretical implications of this proposal and illustrate the workings of the
extended FDG model with the analysis of a number of concrete cases of grammaticalization,
with especial focus on TAM markers.


Abbreviations
C3 noun class 3
INF infinitive
PRES present tense
PROX proximative


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