Syntactic change from within and from without syntax: A usage-based analysis

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This article presents a critical discussion of Inertia Theory (Longobardi 2001; 2003), according to which syntactic change never originates in syntax itself. We argue that syntactic change originates in language usage, which includes the possibility that it may be triggered by genuinely syntactic factors. In order to substantiate this claim, two syntactic changes are studied in detail, namely the rise of French <i>est-ce que </i>as an interrogative particle and the reanalysis of presentational <i>hay + noun </i>“there is + noun” in Spanish. We show that the reanalysis of <i>est-ce que </i>as a marker of ‘strong’ interrogation is pragmatically motivated and brought about by frequent usage. By contrast, the reanalysis of impersonal presentative <i>hay + noun </i>in certain varieties of Spanish is shown to be triggered by conflicting linking strategies, and must therefore be considered an instance of syntactically motivated syntactic change.


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