The Linguistic Cycle: Language Change and the Language Faculty

Elly Van Gelderen

Research output: Book/ReportBook

204 Scopus citations


A cycle involves grammaticalization from lexical to functional category followed by renewal. Some well-known cycles involve negatives, where full negative phrases are reanalyzed as words and affixes and are then renewed by full phrases again. Verbal agreement is another good example: full pronouns are reanalyzed as agreement markers and are renewed again. Demonstrative pronouns also participate in a cycle when they are reanalyzed as articles and then as affixes and then renewed. The aim of this book is not only to chronicle cycles cross-linguistically but also to account for them. It argues that change provides a unique perspective on the language faculty: if change is similar cross-linguistically, this has to be due to the internal make-up of humans when they acquire language. These internal mechanisms can be seen as Economy Principles present in the initial cognitive system or Universal Grammar of the child. The book argues that Economy Principles, in particular Feature Economy, are responsible for the various stages of linguistic change. Loss of semantic features occurs when full verbs such as Old English will with features such as volition, expectation [future] are reanalyzed as having only the feature [future] in Middle English. The features can then be considered grammatical rather than semantic. Semantic features are not economical in the computation (and are therefore reanalyzed) since they make the elements to be combined inert. Two further aims are (a) to argue that some of the cycles can be used to classify a language as analytic or synthetic and (b) to provide insight into the shape of the earliest human language and how it evolved.

Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages464
ISBN (Electronic)9780199896882
ISBN (Print)9780199756056
StatePublished - Sep 22 2011


  • Cycle
  • Economy
  • Features
  • Grammaticalization
  • Minimalist
  • Parameters

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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