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How grammar comes about (and how we discover it)

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr Katherine Bowers.

How come we can say ‘I’m going to sit here and have lunch’ without actually moving somewhere? Why does ‘really’ have a different meaning in ‘She’s really hungry’ and ‘Really, she’s hungry’? These are instances of grammaticalisation or pragmaticalisation, where a lexical item (a normal word) is reanalysed as carrying a grammatical or pragmatic meaning, such as future tense in the case of ‘going to’. Interestingly, English is not the only language in which such grammaticalisation paths GO > future are taken; think of French ‘Je vais cuisiner’ or Dutch ‘Ik ga koken’ (I’m going to cook).

This talk will explain the universal similarities in how grammar comes about, illustrating with cases from African languages like Lingala (where cats and trees appear to be human) and from the new book ‘COME and GO off the beaten grammaticalization path’, co-edited by Jenneke van der Wal.

This talk is part of the Darwin College Humanities and Social Sciences Seminars series.

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