This paper presents an analysis of the evolution of the French preverbal expression à propos (‘by the way’ in Modern French). First I discuss the possibility of analyzing it as a discourse marker. Basing the analysis on Fraser's approach (Journal of Pragmatics 14: 383–395, 1990, Journal of pragmatics 31: 931–952, 1999), I show that à propos falls within the definition of discourse markers, displaying their main characteristics. More specifically it serves to reinforce, or even create, discourse coherence. Secondly I give an account of the historical development of the expression and of the emergence of its pragmatic uses. I argue that it is closely related to the evolution of à ce propos (and to a lesser extent to that of à propos de), and hypothesize that à propos has progressively replaced à ce propos in certain contexts, while also developing in contexts of more abrupt discourse shift. I finally address the issue of the interpretation of à propos as a case of grammaticalization, and show that there are sufficiently convincing arguments to justify its being analyzed as such. I also discuss the relevance of introducing the notion of pragmaticalization, and argue for this being a mere subclass of grammaticalization, though pertaining more specifically to the pragmatic area.
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