How synchronic gradience makes sense in the light of language change (and vice versa)

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The present paper argues for a diachronic approach to synchronic gradience which is based on a mismatch between the syntax and the semantics of constructions. Another central claim made in this paper is that syntactic gradience is not confined to morphosyntactic overlap but may be constituted by semantic overlap (pace Aarts 2007). More precisely, it is argued that there is gradience between constructions with genitives (John’s father, a spare visitor’s chair) and noun+noun constructions (theatre ticket, Bush administration), which stems from their sharing certain semantic features, while their morphosyntax remains distinct. Based on a quantitative corpus analysis it is shown that the constructions gradually come to adopt semantic features of the other construction over time. This process is facilitated by the presence of various ‘bridging constructions’ in the history of English.


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