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Of travels and travails: The role of semantic typology, argument structure constructions, and language contact in semantic change

Judith Huber


This paper is an investigation into the role of argument structure constructions as catalysts or blockers of lexical semantic change. It presents a case study of the divergent semantic development of French travailler ‘work’ and English travel ‘journey’ from their shared earlier meaning ‘labour, toil’. This divergence is shown to not be random: It can be explained as a product of the different intransitive motion constructions (IMCs) and different communicative habits in these two languages. Consequently, the development of travailler ‘journey’ in the Anglo-Norman dialect of French can be understood as the result of contact influence of Middle English. By pointing to similar instances in which verbs meaning ‘labour, toil’ have acquired a polysemous ‘motion’ sense in languages with an IMC that can coerce non-motion verbs into contextual motion readings, the paper argues that this is most probably a regular semantic trajectory in satellite-framing, manner-conflating languages.


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Published Online: 2021-11-03
Published in Print: 2021-11-25

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