It is my understanding that grammaticalization is a fancy way of saying that words that contain a lexical meaning can change over time into words that gradually lose their lexical function, but then gain a grammatical function. Someone on this site presented this example:


  1. originally a word holding just lexical meaning, that could be conjugated like today's wollen in german. Ich will, Ich wollte, Du willst, Wir wollen.
  2. the precursor of today's will lost its ability to be conjugated and their lexical meaning to become an indicator for the future. I will come, We will come
  3. Will became even shorter, that exemplifies a further loss of its original lexical function: I'll come, we'll come
  4. theoretically the last stage will could reach is when it became an affix: I comel, we comel

So far, the information was easy to require, but what about the forces that enhance the transitions from one to a further stage?

What are considered those forces of circumstances to enhance this process within the linguistic community dealing with this phenomenon?

  • 1
    "Grammaticalization" has a more general meaning. Words can lose not only their lexical meaning, but also their syntactical autonomy, and become bound morphemes. I've heard about theories explaining the origin of declensions as postpositions that gradually became bound to the nouns.
    – Typhon
    Oct 29, 2014 at 17:29
  • What is the meaning of "syntactical autonomy" ?
    – meireikei
    Oct 29, 2014 at 17:33
  • 1
    Words can also accrue a grammatical function without giving up their lexical meaning. Will is a good example of this. Oct 30, 2014 at 9:23
  • @meireikei: In German, you can say: "Ich werde ein Rockstar" or "Ein Rockstar werde ich". "werden" has a degree of autonomy. If you use it as an auxiliary for Future Tense, it has to follow syntactic rules: "Ich werde heute ins Schwimmbad gehen" as opposed to eg. "Ich gehen heute ins Schwimmbad werde".
    – Veredomon
    Nov 9, 2014 at 12:38

1 Answer 1


I believe the underlying mechanisms of grammaticalization are well summarized here, namely (semantic) bleaching, de-categorialization, phonetic erosion, and obligatorification. These mechanisms are gradually incurred by frequency of use, and lead to the conventionalization of a specific (mostly) grammatical usage of expressions. If one is interested in grammaticalization, having a look at the work of Hopper, Traugott, Heine, Kuteva etc. and at the Oxford Handbook of Grammaticalization (Narrog & Heine eds.) would make for a good start.

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