Liane Ströbel

Sensorimotor-based Concepts & Visibility

In the following I present three examples in order to illustrate one strategy that can be reduced to the formula “invisible, visible, grammaticalization”.

  1. An action that is ‘invisible’ in the moment of speaking, for example an action having taken place in the past, is made linguistically ‘visible’ either by underlining it with the help of ‘have/hold’ so that the result of the action is presented as if it was still in the possession of the speaker, e.g. I have written, I have sung; French J’ai écrit, J’ai chanté; Spanish he cantado, he escrito, tengo escrito; Italian ho cantato, ho scritto; by emphasizing it with ‘do’ to show that an action has been fulfilled, e.g. I did sing, or by using ‘be’ (the source of all strings) in order to underline that the relationship between the action and the speaker is very close, if not equal (X = Y) as in French je suis allé and Italian sono venuto.
  2. An action that is ‘invisible’ in the moment of speaking, for example an action that takes place in the future, is made linguistically ‘visible’ by presenting it as if it was already in the possession of the speaker, e.g. French je chanterai, Spanish yo cantaré, Italian io canterò. In these cases, we are dealing with already opaque forms, because the etymology of the suffixes –ai/-ré/-rò (< Latin habeo ‘have’) is not transparent any more for most of the speakers of these languages. As we have already seen in the previous section, a decline in transparency is most of the time combined with or the result of a synthetization of two former autonomous forms (e.g. Latin habeo cantatum). This can lead to the rise of new empty verbs, even from different strings. In this particular case it led to ‘go’, a member of the leg/ foot-string, e.g. I am going to sing, French je vais chanter, Spanish voy a cantar. In other languages it favored the rise of ‘come’ (e.g. Swedish komma att).
  3. A concept that is due to its very nature ‘invisible’, for example an emotion, is made linguistically ‘visible’, by presenting it with the help of ‘have’ or another empty verb as a real object that is in the possession of the speaker, e.g. I have doubts, French j’ai peur/faim/des doutes, Spanish tengo miedo/hambre/dudas, Ital- ian ho paura/fame/dubbi, or again by equating the subject (X) with the action (Y), e.g. I am afraid/hungry.

These three examples all share one strategy: e speaker tries to turn an action or concept that is ‘invisible’ in the discourse situation linguistically ‘visible’ by presenting a past or future action or a concept as in his/her possession or at least close to him/her at a given moment in time or discourse situation. Interestingly, in these examples the speaker may choose a complex predicate instead of a simple one (e.g. I have doubts vs. I doubt). e advantage of analytic forms is that these can not only be used more flexibly, but the emphasis of an utterance can be put on a certain aspect. In this case, the analytic form does not only strengthen the relationship between the speaker and his/her utterance, but also underlines the importance of the utterance for the discourse situation.