The present paper is concerned with a process observed in contemporary written Estonian that results in the development of complex postpositions. Traditionally, the category of postpositions in Estonian consists of nothing but simple items. However, in actual language use, there are numerous examples that are analyzable as complex postpositions. In this account, we aim to explain the development of complex postpositions both theoretically and empirically.
In our analysis, we draw on the schema of cyclic development of Estonian function words proposed by Habicht and Penjam (2007). It is shown that the development of complex postpositions is similar to that of complex adverbs. As complex adverbs are defined primarily based on semantic features we propose that semantic analysis is also the best approach to identify complex postpositions.
In the present paper, we discuss various phenomena that are relevant to this particular type of grammaticalization such as lexicalization, reanalysis, actualization, extension, and decategorialization. True, our study is concerned with written language only, and so far there seem to be no formal changes present that are typical of grammaticalization (e.g. phonetic reduction). However, in informal settings, the developing complex postpositions have two spelling variants, i.e. they are often misspelled as a single word. In previous studies (Habicht, Penjam 2007; Jürine 2011) the misspelling has been associated with grammaticalization. In this account we assume a critical position towards this issue. We argue that as a tool of standardization spelling cannot precisely be taken as a defining criterion of grammatical change. However, we claim that given the parallels with (complex) adverbialization and the structural type of Estonian, the spelling of a complex postposition as a single word is likely a manifestation of the development of complex postpositions and hence of grammaticalization as well.