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What do the case studies on experiencer predicates and subordination in section 3 tell us about the maintenance of the horizontal relations in constructional networks? Overall, languages, as complex adaptive systems, do not rely on a sole strategy to express abstract syntactic-semantic meaning. Horizontal relations between constructions (V1-V2-Vn; nom-acc, dat-gen ...; integrated vs. non-integrated subordination) express semantic distinctions that are (partly) expressed by other means as well. In the case of V1 for questions vs. V2 for declaratives, rising intonation is a degenerate way to formulate questions, so that in the absence of V1, clauses can still be interpreted as having interrogative illocutionary force (e.g. U komt toch ook? ‘You will come as well, won’t you?’). Subordination is expressed by Vn as well as by conjunctions, and occasionally also by V1 (Kom je ook, breng dan een vriend mee ‘If you are coming as well, bring a friend’). The semantic level at which the subordinate clauses operates is expressed by inversion in the main clause and by lexical conjunctions. The agency of the experiencer is expressed by case frames, prepositional objects, applicative morphology and voice-based distinctions. This phenomenon, whereby structurally different elements can express the same function is called “degeneracy”, with a technical term from evolutionary biology.

crucially, degeneracy differs from redundancy in that the different strategies are not fully interchangeable and play a role elsewhere in the system as well. Take for instance the use of the (static) passive with experience predicates: it is not the case that the static passive’s only function in Dutch is to express a lower degree of experiencer agency. It is at work in other parts of the grammar as well. The same goes for V1: initial position of the verb can be used to express interrogative illocutionary force, but it can be used for other things as well, such as the expression of conditionals, exclamatives etc. Rather than a one-to-one relationship between form and meaning, or a many-to-one relationship between form and meaning, degeneracy mostly consists of many-to-many relationships between form and meaning. This has implications for diachrony: form-function change seldom consists of “renewal” so that the loss of a grammatical strategy is compensated for by the development of something new. Neither does it consist of the loss of one of several redundant strategies. Rather, form-function changes involve strengthening of already available resources with extension to new domains when a subsystem comes under pressure. This can be visualised as in Figure 12, representing a hypothetical degenerate system in which the full lines stand for strong links and the dashed lines stand for weak links. As is clear from the figure, the loss of forms does not entail loss of functions, even in the case that no new forms are introduced. The only visible change in the forms is a strengthening of formerly weak links. Diachronic degeneracy is in line with the basic tenets of Construction Grammar that grammar, as part of the Construction, is a complex network of constructions.

Diachronic form-function change in degenerate systems

Figure 12: Diachronic form-function change in degenerate systems

In this article, I have looked at two cases studies: the argument realisation of experiencer predicates and the semantic level of subordinate clauses in Dutch. In both cases, there are several indications that we need a network view as in Figure 12 to understand what is going on. A tentative visualisation is given in Figures 13 and 14, respectively.[1] With regard to the expression of the agentivity of the experiencer in Figure 13, there is a loss of one of the formal strategies (c.q. case), leading to a strengthening of other strategies, such as voice-based alternations, the use of prefixes having to do with Aktionsart etc. With regard to the expression of clause relations in Figure 14, there is no loss of formal strategies, but the link between form and function shifts through time: V2 becomes stronger as a marker of main clauses (vs. subordinate clauses), which leads to a further integration of subordinate clauses. This weakens the capacity of V2 in main clauses to serve as a cue for the semantic level of attachment of subordinate clauses. This in turn leads to a stronger link between conjunctions and the semantic level of the attachment of subordinate clauses.

Diachronic degeneracy in the argument realisation of experiencer predicates

Figure 13: Diachronic degeneracy in the argument realisation of experiencer predicates

Diachronic degeneracy in the expression of clause relations

Figure 14: Diachronic degeneracy in the expression of clause relations

  • [1] The details are of lesser importance. In Figure 13 the crucial issue is that the “agentivity ofexperiencer” box (internally made up of a set of horizontally related constructions - not visualisedhere) is degenerately controlled in both stages of Dutch. The precise relationships between theother forms and the other functions requires additional study. The same goes for Figure 14,mutatis mutandis.
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