Affordances perspective and grammaticalization: Incorporation of language, environment and users in the model of semantic paths

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Alexander Andrason
Marianna Visser


The present paper demonstrates that insights from the affordances perspective can contribute to developing a more comprehensive model of grammaticalization. The authors argue that the grammaticalization process is afforded differently depending on the values of three contributing parameters: the factor (schematized as a qualitative-quantitative map or a wave of a gram), environment (understood as the structure of the stream along which the gram travels), and actor (narrowed to certain cognitive-epistemological capacities of the users, in particular to the fact of being a native speaker). By relating grammaticalization to these three parameters and by connecting it to the theory of optimization, the proposed model offers a better approximation to realistic cases of grammaticalization: The actor and environment are overtly incorporated into the model and divergences from canonical grammaticalization paths are both tolerated and explicable.


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Alexander Andrason, Department of African Languages, Stellenbosch University; Matieland 7602, South Africa Andrason (PhD in Semitic Languages, University Complutense in Madrid, Spain, 2010) is an Icelandic linguist currently working as a postdoctoral fellow at Stellenbosch University (South Africa), where he is also completing his second PhD in African languages. His research focuses mainly on the areas of verbal systems, cognitive linguistics, semantics and morphosyntax, grammaticalization theory, typology, dynamic modelling of natural languages, language contact, complexity theory and physical anthropology. His language interests include the Indo-European (Germanic, Slavic, Romance and Greek), Afro-Asiatic (Semitic and Egyptian) and NigerCongo (Mande, Bantu and Khoesan) families. He has also been engaged in the documentation and preservation of endangered and minority languages (Vilamovicean).

Marianna Visser, Department of African Languages, Stellenbosch University; Matieland 7602, South Africa Visser is Professor in African Languages at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. She has been involved in the teaching of isiXhosa as an undergraduate subject, both in courses designed for students who have a first (home) language competence in isiXhosa and for students who study the subject as second (or additional) language learners. At postgraduate level, she has been involved in the teaching and research supervision of Honours, Master’s and PhD students specialising in the study of several African languages related to isiXhosa, including isiZulu, siSwati, isiNdebele, Sesotho, Sepedi, Setswana, Tshivenda and Xitsonga, and some other Sub-Saharan African languages. Her research interests and publications include second language learning and teaching, genre-based literacy and language teaching relating particularly to lexical-semantic, grammatical and discourse-semantic properties of texts, discourse analysis focusing of argumentation and media genres, and theoretical morphosyntax from a generative perspective.


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