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According to the work of philologists, the particles 曰 *[ɢ]ʷat, 于 *ɢʷ(r)a, 云 *[ɢ]ʷə[r] were aspect markers in Early Archaic Chinese, marking the 'prospective', continuous and 'actualising' aspects respectively. They are different forms of the same word, and their phonological difference ultimately originates from TAM suffixes in Proto-Sino-Tibetan. (I suspect these markers may express properties of modality and not just aspect, but in any case, the bottom line is that they were markers of TAM at first.)

However, when you look at Late Archaic Chinese, pretty much all instances of 曰 *[ɢ]ʷat and 云 *[ɢ]ʷə[r] are either copulas or verbs introducing quotations. 曰 *[ɢ]ʷat can also function like a quotative, like the modern Chinese 道 dao. 曰 *[ɢ]ʷat and 云 *[ɢ]ʷə[r] also occasionally take newly-grammaticalised aspect markers like 既 *[k]ə[t]-s as well. So it seems that we have a case of functional morphemes gaining very lexical meaning and acting like other verbs. This use of 曰 *[ɢ]ʷat and 云 *[ɢ]ʷə[r] are extremely common, and the older TAM uses have seemingly vanished without trace.

Is such a change attested in any other language family? Should this be considered a counter-example to the unidirectionality hypothesis of grammaticalisation, or simply a case of lexicalisation? Thanks.

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  • On Chinese SE, you can expect people to know the meaning and pronunciation of Chinese characters, so maybe this would be better asked there. "Such a change", given what you've told us, can only happen in Chinese since it seems to be about Chinese characters. You could broaden and clarify the question a bit.
    – user6726
    Feb 2 '17 at 16:32
  • @user6726 It's about the morphemes, not orthography, and I'm not asking a question about Chinese but about grammaticalisation theory and diachronic typology, so I don't think the Chinese SE will be of any use. I usually show modern Mandarin readings when the topic is Old Chinese syntax, but this is bound to mislead in a morphology-related question, so I decided against it. I'll add the Baxter-Sagaart readings, if it helps. Feb 2 '17 at 17:01
  • *Baxter-Sagart readings Feb 2 '17 at 17:10

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