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Grammaticalization refers to the process whereby words that represent objects, actions or states gradually lose their lexical meaning and acquire a grammatical meaning instead, becoming function words and eventually grammatical affixes.

See also: Wikipedia article on Grammaticalization

This page provides a list of attested grammaticalization pathways in natural languages. It is meant as a resource for conlangers looking for inspiration on how to express a given category.

The primary source for these examples is Bernd Heine, Tania Kuteva, World lexicon of grammaticalization, Cambridge University Press (2002).

The list is sorted, firstly, to bring together the groups of pathways established by the text near the end of certain entries ("This process appears to be part of a more general evolution [...]; see also [...]".) Some pathways are in more than one group. As for the pathways not in any group I have attempted to place them near those groups with similar targets.

Gray entries are suggested to be chains of multiple elementary steps: for example the pathway body > reciprocal is thought to proceed via body > reflexive > reciprocal.

Heine & Kuteva seem to have a theoretical preconception that there can be no pathways whose reverse is also a pathway: if dative can become genitive then the opposite can never occur. I suspect that this is overbroad and may have led them to demote to side remarks certain pathways whose reverses are better attested. The annotation (vice versa?) indicates this.

HERE abl(6)

  • spatial concepts > agents in passive constructions
    • locative > agent
    • ablative > agent
    • comitative > agent via instrumental
    • hand > agent
    • ablative > partitive possibly via a-possessive
    • ablative > material
  • spatial concepts > template for standard of comparison
    • locative > comparative
    • ablative > comparative
    • up (mostly 'on, upon') > comparative
  • spatial motion > tense (or aspect)
    • ablative > near past
    • come to > future
    • go to > future
    • come to > proximative
  • process verbs > tense, aspect, and modality (we haven't finished)
    • come to > future
    • go to > future
    • come to > proximative
    • get > permissive via ability
    • get > possibility via ability
  • epistemic modality
    • deontic modality > epistemic modality
    • ability > possibility
    • obligation > probability
  • deontic modality
    • ability > permissive
  • other modality
    • get > ability
  • pronouns > something else (Susanne Michaelis, The fate of subject pronouns, in "Degrees of restructuring in Creole languages", ed. Ingrid Neumann-Holzschuh & Edgar W. Schneider, Amsterdam/Philadelphia 2000)
    • 3sg subject pronoun > agreement marker
      • 3sg subject pronoun > tense marker via agreement marker
      • 3sg subject pronoun > finiteness marker via agreement marker
      • 3sg subject pronoun > main clause marker via agreement marker
      • 3sg subject pronoun > predicate marker via agreement marker
    • 3sg subject pronoun > copula
    • 3sg object pronoun > agreement marker
      • 3sg object pronoun > transitive/causative marker via agreement marker