Gradience (Language)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

There are duck billed platypuses in the animal world, and there are borderline entities in grammar as well
Linguist James Matisoff, quoted by Kate Burridge in Gift of the Gob: Morsels of English Language History (HarperCollins Australia, 2011).

In language studies, gradience is the quality of indeterminacy (or blurred boundaries) on a graduated scale connecting two linguistic elements. Adjective: gradient. Also known as categorial indeterminacy.

Gradient phenomena can be observed in all areas of language studies, including phonology, morphology, vocabulary, syntax, and semantics

The term gradience was introduced by Dwight Bolinger in Generality, Gradience, and the All-or-None (1961).

See Examples and Observations below. Also, see:

Examples and Observations

  • "[Dwight] Bolinger argued that . . . linguistic categories have blurred edges more often than not, and that apparently clear-cut categories often have to be replaced by non-discrete scales. Bolinger identified gradient phenomena in various domains of grammar, such as semantic ambiguities, syntactic blends, and in phonological entities, including intensity and length, among others."
    (Gisbert Fanselow et al., "Gradience in Grammar." Gradience in Grammar: Generative Perspectives, ed. by Gisbert Fanselow. Oxford University Press, 2006)
  • Gradience in Grammar
    - "Grammar is prone to fuzziness; there are often degrees of acceptability. Many syntacticians deal in terms of binary judgements. Either an expression is grammatical, or it is ungrammatical, in which case they put an asterisk on it. There is no third value. This is unrealistic, and can falsify the data. There are some quite simple expressions about which native speakers have genuine uncertainty. In my own case, if I want to describe the house that Sue and I jointly own, I am not sure whether ?My and Sue's house is OK or not. Something about it feels odd to me, but it can be readily understood, and no more compact way exists to express its clear meaning. This uncertainty is itself a fact of grammar."
    (James R. Hurford, The Origins of Grammar: Language in the Light of Evolution II. Oxford University Press, 2012)

    - "Gradience is the situation where there is no one-to-one relationship between the different levels of symbolical organization. Thus, the subject marker for and the preposition for are semantically and syntactically distinct, but they are formally identical and converge in their collocational behavior. In other words, a formal category does not map uniquely onto a single semantic, syntactic, and distributional category. Similarly, the phrasal verb particles out and forth are formally distinct, but they converge collocationally and semantically. Here, semantic and collocational categories map onto distinct formal categories.

    "Gradience can therefore be thought of as a kind of mismatch, consisting in the absence of a one-to-one correspondence between the different layers of grammatical organization within and across the representations of grammatical elements . . .."
    (Hendrik De Smet, "Grammatical Interference: Subject Marker for and the Phrasal Verb Particles out and forth." Gradience, Gradualness and Grammaticalization, ed. by Elizabeth Closs Traugott and Graeme Trousdale. John Benjamins, 2010)
  • Gradience in Phonetics and Phonology: Compounds and Noncompounds
    "Gradience [is a] series of instances intermediate between two categories, constructions, etc. E.g. blackboard is, by all relevant criteria, a compound: it has stress on its first element . . ., its precise meaning does not follow from those of black and board individually, and so on. Fine weather is equally, by all criteria, not a compound. But many other cases are less clear. Bond Street is in meaning as regular as Trafalgar Square, but stress is again on the first element. Able seaman has stress on its second element, but does not simply mean 'seaman who is able.' White lie is likewise not in meaning 'lie which is white'; but it too has stress on its second element and, in addition, white might be separately modified (a very white lie). So, by such criteria, these form parts of a gradience between compounds and non-compounds."
    (P.H. Matthews, Oxford Concise Dictionary of Linguistics, Oxford University Press, 1997)
  • Two Kinds of Lexical Gradience
    "[David] Denison (2001) distinguishes two kinds of [lexicalgradience and discusses changes in English during the narrow time span from 1800 on, distinguishing some that are gradual from some that are not. . . . The two types of gradience are 'subsective' and 'intersective' (terms Denison attributes to Bas Aarts . . .):
    (a) Subsective gradience is found when X and Y are in a gradient relationship within the same form class. This is a question of prototype vs. marginal members of a category (eg., house is a more prototypical N than home with respect to determiners and quantifiers; house is also less subject to idiomatic use).
    (b) Intersective gradience is found when X and Y are in a gradient relationship between classes; see the notion of 'category squish."
    (Laurel J. Brinton and Elizabeth Closs Traugott, Lexicalization and Language Change. Cambridge University Press, 2005)