The Diachronic Shift of Japanese Transitive/Unaccusative Verb Pairs

  •  Wenchao Li    


This study explores how Japanese transitive/unaccusative verb pairs have transformed from being a substantive verb to the various forms they fulfil in Modern Japanese (i.e., an aspectual verb, a noun, an adjective, an adverb, a quantifier and a suffix) and how grammaticalisation and lexicalisation play an essential role during the processes. A working definition of ‘grammaticalisation’ and ‘lexicalisation’ that applies to Japanese is put forward, followed by a corpus-based investigation as well as a case study. The finding reveals that (a) the process by which a lexeme develops into a noun is a case of lexicalisation; the process by which a lexeme develops into an aspectual verb, an adverb, an adjective, a suffix or a quantifier is a case of grammaticalisation; (b) transitive verbs are more likely to convey aspect than unaccusatives are. The shift into a quantifier is limited to unaccusative verbs. Grammaticalisation (affixation) and lexicalisation in Japanese both require syntactic reduction and morphological alternation. The two differ in that lexicalisation does not require an alternation in writing, i.e., a lexicalised item can remain being written in Chinese characters (Note 1) whilst a grammaticalised item can only appear in kana script. Phonological alternation is obligatory in grammaticalisation but not required by lexicalisation. Lexicalisation appears to occur before grammaticalisation.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
  • ISSN(Print): 1923-869X
  • ISSN(Online): 1923-8703
  • Started: 2011
  • Frequency: bimonthly

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