III Constructions in variation and change

Freek Van de Velde

Degeneracy: The maintenance of constructional networks


In this article it is argued that long-term drifts that destroy grammatical strategies a language disposes of in its functional domains are not as detrimental as one might think, thanks to a property that goes under the name of “degeneracy”, a technical term from evolutionary biology for the phenomenon that structurally different elements can fulfil the same function. To bring out the diachronic effects of degeneracy, a construction grammar perspective will be taken, with special emphasis to the horizontal relations in constructional networks, which so far have been somewhat neglected in comparison with the vertical relations.

The article is structured as follows: in the remainder of this introduction, I will first introduce the concept of degeneracy, as this is not a familiar notion in linguistics. Second, I will detail what I understand by constructional networks in Construction Grammar. In section 2, I will introduce two cases of constructional networks: Dutch experience predicates and Dutch subordinate clauses. In section 3, I trace the diachrony of these constructional networks, showing how they are degenerately transformed. Section 4 rounds off with the conclusions.

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