Small steps rather than large pathways of change: The Entrenchment-and-Conventionalization Model and the grammaticalization spectrum

Hans-Jörg Schmid er professor i moderne engelsk sprogvidenskab ved LudwigMaximilians Universität München. Hans forskningsområder omfatter kognitiv lingvistik, leksikalsk semantik, orddannelse, pragmatik og sprogteori. I de senere år har han beskæftiget sig indgående med det, han kalder ’sprogsystemets dynamik’, herunder konventionalisering og entrenchment. I 2020 udgav han monografien The dynamics of the linguistic system: Usage, conventionalization, and entrenchment (Oxford University Press).


Hans-Jörg Schmid, LMU Munich, Germany

The Entrenchment-and-Conventionalization Model is designed as a socio-cognitive dynamic complex-adaptive model of how language works (Schmid 2015, 2016, 2020). The overarching goal of the model is to explain how three components interact to shape linguistic structure, variation and change:

  • the use of language in situated usage events,
  • social processes taking place in speech communities, and
  • cognitive processes taking place in the minds of individuals.

The basic idea of how this interaction works is that usage mediates between two feedback loops: the conventionalization feedback loop, which creates and sustains linguistic conventions in speech communities, on the one hand, and the entrenchment feedback loop, which creates and sustains patterns of associations in the minds of speakers, on the other. Linguistic structure, variation and change are emergent in the sense that they are constituted and controlled by this self-reinforcing double feedback system (plus a range of forces acting upon its components).

In my talk I will discuss some predictions and applications of the model regarding language change, focusing on a range of phenomena subsumed under the wider umbrella notion of grammaticalization, including chunking, decategorialization, semantic bleaching, host-class expansion and pragmaticalization. I will present some ideas detailing how changes of these types are driven and controlled by the interplay of communal conventionalization and individual entrenchment. Furthermore, I will argue that it may be rewarding to think of language change in terms of small steps of local adaptations rather than large-scale pathways of change like grammaticalization, lexicalization or constructionalization.


Schmid, H.-J. (2015). "A blueprint of the Entrenchment-and-Conventionalization Model." Yearbook of the German Cognitive Linguistics Association 3(1): 3-25.

Schmid, H.-J. (2016). "Why cognitive linguistics must embrace the social and pragmatic dimensions of language and how it could do so more seriously." Cognitive Linguistics 27(4): 543-557.

Schmid, H.-J. (2020). The dynamics of the linguistic system. Usage, conventionalization, and entrenchment. Oxford, Oxford University Press.