(Un)-interpretable features and grammaticalization

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To explain the diverse distribution of determiners in French Based Creoles (FBC) a formal model of grammaticalization is proposed in which grammaticalization is taken to encode a change in the <i>interpretability</i> of one or more of the features in a lexical item. Here <i>interpretability</i> is understood as legibility at an interface (Chomsky 2000). By changing the interpretability value of a feature, a lexical item in effect changes its status from that of an attractable element, or GOAL, largely syntactically inert (although it can provide valuation) to that of an attractor, or PROBE, driving the syntactic derivation because it must be checked (i.e. valued or eliminated). This change has important and predictable structuring effects, since feature checking is the operation that motivates syntactic movement in the Minimalist framework. Based on a comparative study of the syntactic and semantic properties of FBC determiners, the paper demonstrates how this model explains the correlation between their striking ordering variations and their meaning on the basis of distinctions in the interpretability of their number and person features.


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