Constructional change, paradigmatic structure and the orientation of usage processes

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This article presents a model analysis of the interplay between structure and usage in the semantic change of constructions, with a focus on the role of content structure in the sense of paradigmatically organised semantic structure. The case at hand is the development of the Danish indirect object construction from the 18th century to the present, a specialisation process parallel to the one described for English by Colleman &#38; De Clerck (2011), though not identical to it. The semantics of constructions is described in terms of linguistic content, as distinct from conceptual structure, and the linguistic content of constructions is organised to a great extent in paradigmatic oppositions, similar to those found in classical morphology (N&#248;rg&#229;rd-S&#248;rensen, Heltoft &#38; Sch&#248;sler 2011). This organisation principle implies that the semantic description must uncover the boundaries of the construction&#8217;s content, a strategy different from a description in terms of prototypicality, but compatible with it.The identification of changes in the paradigmatic organisation of constructions is a precondition for identifying and interpreting the changes we observe in usage. In a concluding example, the reanalyses of the verbs <i>bebrejde</i> &#8216;reproach&#8217; and <i>gifte sig</i> &#8216;marry&#8217; are compared, and two kinds of usage processes (actualisation processes) are identified: (1) actualisation processes that are a consequence of structural change in the sense of reanalysis, and (2) processes of redistribution which, in the present case, move verb stems from one already existing construction type to another. Thus, structural descriptions allow us to orient and interpret usage processes.


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