The Entrenchment of the «unus alterum» Pattern

Four Essays on Latin and Old Romance Reciprocal Constructions

by Mikołaj Nkollo (Author)
©2016 Monographs 117 Pages
Series: Łódź Studies in Language, Volume 49


In this book, the author presents that although various Old Romance grammars can be traced back to the common Latin ancestor, the functional domain of reciprocity shows divergent paths of development. In this regard, each of the languages have worked up their unique solutions, with grammatical and semantic mechanisms underlying their diversity.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of contents
  • Introduction
  • 1.1 Aims and scope. Diachronic shifts in the marking of reciprocity
  • 1.2 Key theoretical assumptions
  • 1.2.1 Construction grammar
  • 1.2.2 Grammaticalization of constructions
  • 1.3 Reciprocal constructions – semantic types and structural models
  • 1.4 Empirical data
  • Essay 1. Fluctuations in the Latin reciprocal system
  • 2.1 Reiterated clusters
  • 2.2 First symptoms of the breakdown of the classical system
  • 2.3 Concurrent reciprocal markers
  • 2.4 The encoding of NP quantifying force
  • 2.5 The career of unus alterum
  • Essay 2. Old French li uns l’autre, a multi-faceted reciprocal marker
  • 3.1 One general construction – many detailed problems
  • 3.2 Semantic variation in the l’un l’autre constructions
  • 3.3 L’un l’autre in non-specific reciprocal constructions. Co-indexation problems
  • Essay 3. Reiterated sequences in Old Spanish. Old layer with a new typological profile
  • 4.1 Historical continuity or coincidence of forms?
  • 4.2 Diachronic shift ‘from above’: parameters
  • 4.2.1 Text genres
  • 4.2.2 Type of clause
  • 4.2.3 External origin
  • 4.3 Typological consequences
  • Essay 4. When do constructions fail to become entrenched? An unsuccessful attempt in Old Portuguese
  • 5.1 Discontinuous and simple reciprocal constructions: syntax – semantics correspondences
  • 5.2 Model-switching and its heuristic value
  • 5.3 Abrupt vs. gradual emergence of a new form-meaning pair
  • References
  • Index of Names

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1.1 Aims and scope. Diachronic shifts in the marking of reciprocity

The aims pursued in the present monograph relate to the emergence and further development of reciprocal constructions with the sequence descending from unus alterum in Old Romance languages. The fortunes of this expression, prior to the rise of medieval neo-Latin vernaculars, is quite intriguing. As a matter of fact, in spite of being abundantly documented in late Latin texts, unus alterum seems to have been rather peripheral in previous periods of the history of the Latin language. Compared to the multitude of specialized bipartite markers (i.e. those that cannot be used interchangeably), the number of its attestations in classical writings is fairly small. Yet, right from the outset of the Romance era, instead of relying on semantically well-defined reiterated expressions (see 1a-b below), reciprocity is nearly universally encoded by linguistic signs originating from unus alterum and by the former reflexive pronoun < se (acc./abl.). Thus, an ancillary concern, which helps shed light on properly Romance matters, is the reconstruction of how this quantitative impoverishment actually came about. Latin data, extensively dealt with in Essay 1, is expected to explain why an erstwhile marginal expression went ahead of its rivals, reputedly more widespread.

(1a) Omnium namque malorum in Sergio Verginioque causas esse; nec id accusatorem magis arguere quam fateri reos, qui noxii ambo alter in alterum causam conferant, fugam Sergi Verginius, Sergius proditionem increpans Vergini Livy UC 5, 11 (TLL) ‘For that the sources of all their sufferings were centred in Sergius and Virginius: nor did the prosecutor advance that charge more satisfactorily than the accused acknowledged it; who, both guilty, threw the blame from one to the other, Virginius charging Sergius with running away, Sergius charging Virginius with treachery’ (transl. PG)

(1b) Quam ob rem, si hoc iudici praescriptum lege aut officio putatis, testibus credere, nihil est cur alius alio iudice melior aut sapientior existimetur Cic. Font 22 (LC) ‘If therefore you think that a juryman has either a legal or a moral obligation to believe witnesses, then there can be no reason for judging one juryman to be better or wiser than another’ (transl. LC)

Eventually, no semantic loss in the functional domain of reciprocity is revealed in Old Romance languages. Although they exploit a single bipartite marker, the same range of meanings as in Latin is successfully transmitted. Thus, Romance reciprocal sequences originating from unus alterum prove astonishingly resilient and efficient in accommodating all semantic varieties that were formally distinct ← 7 | 8 → in classical Latin. This meaning-preserving uniformity poses an additional challenge: the study is expected to account for how the loss of numerous formal variants was made up for.

More properly explanatory issues are addressed in the analyses of language-specific grammatical phenomena. In each of these parts, detailed semantic and grammatical problems are approached. Their strongly individuated nature is better grasped if constructions drawn from two Old Romance languages are set off against each other. In spite of the fact that they denote similar types of relation (hitting; see 2a–b below), the two sentences are substantially different in how their markers are linearly arranged. Moreover, inflectional characteristics of the verbal predicate in French 12th-century example stand in a stark contrast to the Spanish (14th century) singular plaga ‘wounds’. If the hypothesis according to which two non–synonymous meanings tend to be mirrored by divergent syntactic structures is agreed on, even these sketchy illustrations show how pervasive the differences between language-specific constructions are.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (December)
Frankfurt am Main, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2016. 117 pp., 6 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Mikołaj Nkollo (Author)

Mikołaj Nkollo is a specialist in Romance diachronic linguistics. His papers were released in prestigious linguistic periodicals in the US, Netherlands and Germany. He was awarded numerous scholarships. The current book summarizes 3-year investigation supported by the Polish National Centre of Science, funding initiative OPUS4.


Title: The Entrenchment of the «unus alterum» Pattern