Grammaticalization and the sentimental evolution of Antoine Meillet

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

Abstract / Description of output

This chapter considers the work where the term grammaticalisation (‘grammaticalization’) first appeared in print, for the process through which an independent word becomes a bound morpheme, or otherwise loses its morphological and semantic autonomy, usually with concomitant phonological reduction. Grammaticalization has recently become a central topic in historical linguistics, and the 1912 paper in which Meillet (1866–1936) introduced it is ritually cited, although the lack of an English translation has kept it inaccessible to linguists who do not read French. Even those linguists who read French know the paper exclusively from its reprinting in a 1921 compendium of Meillet’s work. Rarely does one get the sense that they have read it with due diligence, let alone understood it in the context of its place within Meillet’s intellectual trajectory, which the introductory essay and notes to this translation lay out. This chapter aims to help linguists who work with grammaticalization to see what their conception of it does or does not share with Meillet’s original version. The introduction considers how the article relates to a long-standing tradition of treating grammar as natural, and lexicon as artificial, and it weighs up the significance of Meillet’s concern with the role of expressive force, together with his use of the political metaphor of autonomy and how it may connect with his later views on languages in the ‘new Europe’. It proposes a homology between the grammaticalization process and the development of linguistics, which has aimed to transfer as much as possible from the realm of parole to that of langue, with evidence cited from recent controversies over the possibility of ‘degrammaticalization’.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Limits of Structuralism
Subtitle of host publicationForgotten Texts in the History of Modern Linguistics
EditorsJames McElvenny
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages30
ISBN (Electronic) 9780191944314
ISBN (Print)9780192849045
Publication statusPublished - 4 Mar 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Antoine Meillet
  • grammaticalization
  • historical linguistics
  • aesthetics
  • stylistics
  • degrammaticalization


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