The evolution of the encoding of direction in the history of French

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This paper presents a quantitative study of a change in the encoding of direction from the Old French period to the Middle French period: the loss of verb-particle combinations. Using a large electronic corpus, we test a previous hypothesis about the cause of this change from the theoretical literature, namely, that the loss of directional particles was caused by another change in the language around that period: the lexicalization of directional and aspectual prefixes onto verbal roots. We argue that a link between the two changes is not verified by our data. Through this study, we also investigate the extent to which argument structure change parallels another type of morphosyntactic change: abstract parameter change. We argue that the shape of change in the valency of predicates is different from that of parameter change because argument structure change is sensitive to many more factors, including the semantics of particular lexical expressions.


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