Exploring and recycling

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This paper discusses the concept of syntactic exaptation (see Traugott 2004) by considering two changes which involve re-use of highly grammaticalized linguistic material and have as yet received little attention. We claim that exaptation is an appropriate label to describe the outcome of both processes and suggest defining exaptation as a derived notion, which allows for a quite restricted definition. The case studies focus on (i) Brazilian Portuguese, which allows for preverbal bare singular subjects with a generic reading, but also with definite/specific referents (Wall 2013), an extension presumably due to their common interpretation as topics; and (ii) Spanish, which extended the definite article around 1600 to the head of completive that-clauses (Lapesa 1984). Later on, the article was reinterpreted as introducing sentences that convey ‘thematic’ (Serrano 2014) or topical information. Both changes concern the same category (article marking), and show recycling into a novel use through information structural properties.


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