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Folia Linguistica

Acta Societatis Linguisticae Europaeae

Editor-in-Chief: Fischer, Olga / Norde, Muriel

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Volume 46, Issue 2


Word order in French, Spanish and Italian:A grammaticalization account

Karen Lahousse / Béatrice Lamiroy
Published Online: 2012-10-31 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/flin.2012.014

This article provides a comparative analysis of word order in Spanish, French and Italian. We first consider word order in general, and show that Spanish has all types of word order except SOV (i.e. SVO, VOS, OSV, VSO and OVS), while Italian lacks SOV and VSO, and French lacks SOV, VSO and OVS. Taking a constructional view on grammaticalization and language change, we argue that the different word order patterns can be accounted for in terms of grammaticalization. We provide evidence for a continuum from Spanish → Italian → French, Spanish being the least grammaticalized, and French the most grammaticalized language. In the second part of the article we provide further evidence for our claim by focusing on the distribution of a particular type of word order shared by all three languages, VOS, where the subject is typically narrowly focused. VOS occurs in four discourse contexts in Spanish and Italian, but it is subject to additional restrictions in Italian. In French it appears only in one of the four discourse contexts of Spanish and Italian. Our hypothesis is that this is a case of progressive grammaticalization with respect to the interface between grammatical structure (the VOS word order) and information structure. Independent evidence for our claim comes from the distribution of clefts in Romance, which are a functional variant of VOS. This phenomenon, which developed in Romance as an innovative mechanism used to narrowly focus a constituent, shows the reversed pattern as the one observed for VOS: it is most developed in French, least in Spanish while it is progressing in modern Italian.

Keywords:: Romance; French; Spanish; Italian; word order; grammaticalization

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Published Online: 2012-10-31

Published in Print: 2012-10-01

Citation Information: , Volume 46, Issue 2, Pages 387–416, ISSN (Online) 1614-7308, ISSN (Print) 0165-4004, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/flin.2012.014.

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