Modality and grammaticalization in Japanese

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18 Citations (Scopus)


Grammaticalization of modal markers has long been thought of in terms of change from deontic to epistemic meaning. This change, then, is typically thought of as a mapping between conceptual domains. Contrary to this perception, I argue in this paper that (1) change from deontic to epistemic (that is, the acquisition of epistemic meaning by deontic markers), although salient in many European languages, is cross-linguistically a marginal tendency, (2), the cross-linguistically most salient tendency in the development of modal markers is towards greater speaker-orientation, and (3), this change can best be explained by primarily referring to pragmatic processes, rather than conceptual processes. I substantiate my claims by analyzing the cross-linguistic modality data in Bybee et al. (1994), by providing a catalogue of etymologies of Modern Japanese modal markers, and by analyzing the polysemy and semantic change of one specific marker in Japanese language history (-be-si) in detail.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)269-294
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Historical Pragmatics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • Deontic and epistemic
  • Grammaticalization
  • Japanese
  • Modality
  • Speaker-orientation
  • Subjectification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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