Thomas Rainsford: Lexical change in motion: Motion verbs and motion lexicalization from medieval to modern Romance
University of Stuttgart

The research project focuses on changing patterns of motion lexicalization in two Romance languages, French and Italian, and will examine the extent to which these changes can be accounted for by changes in the inventory of motion verbs. The project will focus in particular on verb–particle constructions and the use of Manner of motion verbs with a Path satellite, both of which are atypical in “verb-framed” Romance languages (see §1). The two languages under investigation show differing historical developments: while “satellite-framed” structures are prevalent in medieval varieties of both languages, they have generally been lost in modern French but retained in modern Italian. Following Yang (2016), I consider that the productivity of a particular rule or construction across a class of lexemes results from a “sufficient” number of lexemes providing positive evidence for the rule’s existence, with “sufficient” here referring to the critical thresholds given by the Tolerance and Sufficiency Principles. Language change follows from changes in the structure of the input; more specifically, from changes in the inventory of motion verbs acquired and the motion-lexicalization constructions (MLCs) in which they are attested. Moreover, bilingual speakers can affect the structure of the input both by lexical borrowing, thereby changing the inventory of lexical items in a particular class in the recipient language, and through the extension of rules and constructions which are unproductive in the recipient language but productive in the source language. Overall, the project will investigate the following research questions:

  1. To what extent does change in the inventory of motion verbs in a language correlate with attested changes in MLCs?
  2. To what extent are bilingual speakers responsible for the development and the extension of MLCs in a recipient language?

Together, the research questions address the four key features of SILPAC, examining different stages of similar linguistic changes. RQ-2 focuses on the role of bilinguals as agents of change (key feature 2), responsible for initiating changes in E-language which ultimately cause changes in the input to future L1 speakers (key feature 1). RQ-1 focuses more specifically on the effects that changes in the lexicon have on the argument structure of motion verbs (key feature 3), using Yang’s Tolerance Principle (TP) as a learning model to evaluate these effects (key feature 4).