Grammaticalization path

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A grammaticalization path is the pathway a form or construction takes during grammaticalization. The change from a lexical item to a grammatical form does not take place in one abrupt event. It is rather characterized by a "series of small transmissions, that tend to be similar in type across languagers" (Hopper & Traugott 2003:6). Due to the observation that in grammaticalization, languages tend to take the same route, theoreticians have proposed abstract, supposedly universal pathways of grammaticalization.


Hopper & Traugott (2003:7) give the following prototypical form of a grammaticalization path:

  • content item > grammatical word > clitic > inflectional affix

Like all proposed grammaticalization paths, the one cited from Hopper & Traugott is a one-way street, the reverse order is believed to be non-existent. This reflects the unidirectionality hypothesis of grammaticalization.


Grammaticalization paths are traditionally understood as instantiations of drift rather than contact-induced change, since they have "usually been viewed as independent, language internal changes" (Heine & Kuteva 2005:14).



  • Hopper, Paul J. & Traugott, Elizabeth Closs. 2003. Grammaticalization. 2nd edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Heine, Bernd & Kuteva, Tania. 2005. Language Contact and Grammatical Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.