Oblique predicative constructions in English

by Bas Aarts (University College London)

English allows for a predicative phrase to occur after the prepositions for and as in constructions like the following:

(1) We took her for a friend.
(2) They left her for dead.

(3) I regarded her as a genius.
(4) She rates his work as excellent.

The phrases introduced by for and as in these constructions introduce either a noun phrase or adjective phrase constituent that is predicated of the postverbal noun phrase in each case. I will call the V + NP + [PP P+NP/AdjP] construction the oblique predicative construction, and the complement of the preposition an oblique predicative complement. The construction with for is the older one, and is found in many unrelated languages, including Gothic, Greek, Latin, Russian, Spanish, Dutch and German, as Jespersen (1909-49, IV: 386) has shown.

In this paper I will trace the history of predicative oblique constructions involving for and as and a number of additional prepositions from Old English onwards. I will then discuss the huge range of constructions in which predicative for appears, and how these differ from constructions with as, which gradually became dominant in Present-Day English. By looking at a range of data I will investigate whether the claim that for and as are interchangeable, made by the OED, Jespersen and Poutsma, is valid. I will argue that for a number of reasons it is unsustainable. I will look at one of these reasons in detail, namely the observation that for has acquired a subtly specialised meaning which has come to differentiate it from as.


This paper will be read at the Annual General Meeting of the Philological Society in Cambridge, Murray Edwards College, Buckingham House Seminar Room, on Saturday, 15 June 2019, 4.15pm.

The Preterite and Perfect in Middle English

by Morgan Macleod (University of Ulster)

The Proto-Germanic tense system, consisting only of a present and a preterite, was augmented in Old English by the addition of a periphrastic perfect. This perfect had already been grammaticalized to the point where it could be used even with intransitive verbs, e.g. þin folc hæfð gesyngod ‘your people have sinned’ (Mitchell 1985: I, 289). However, it was still possible to use the preterite to express similar temporal content, e.g. Ic heold nu nigon gear[…] þines fæder gestreon ‘I (have) now held your father’s property nine years’ (ÆLS I.21.42). For many Old English authors the preterite was in fact the preferred mode of expression; previous research on a sample of Old English texts found that the new periphrastic perfect was used only in 26% (95/360) of the cases where it would have been possible semantically (see Macleod 2014). However, little previous quantitative work exists on the subsequent development of the perfect and preterite towards the modern system, in which the two categories are paradigmatically opposed and can seldom be interchanged without altering the meaning of an utterance.

A preliminary investigation of the preterite and perfect in Middle English was performed using the Helsinki Corpus (Rissanen et al. 1996). Such a corpus, small in size yet selected for balanced content, was ideal for a form of analysis involving manual review of entire textual passages. The methodology was based on that of Macleod (2014): texts from the earliest Middle English period, 1150–1250, were analysed to identify all situations for which a present perfect would be an appropriate representation, and the relevant verbs were identified either as preterites or as perfects. This research revealed an abrupt transition between Old English and Middle English; in Middle English, not including texts that represent late copies of Old English works, the periphrastic perfect was used in 94% (258/274) of cases. It is possible that the earlier stages of this transition took place within OE, where they were obscured by the relatively homogeneous nature of the textual record. In addition, some ME authors seem to show awareness of a new opposition between the preterite and the perfect, e.g. Orm 197 Þe þridde god uss hafeþþ don / Þe Laferrd Crist onn erþe, / Þurrh þatt he ȝaff hiss aȝhenn lif ‘The Lord Christ has done us the third good on earth in that He gave His own life’. Here the same situation is described with a preterite to position it within a historical narrative and with a perfect to highlight its continuing relevance, showing a clearer contrast than seems to have existed in Old English.

Although the majority of Middle English examples seem to conform to the modern pattern, a small number of exceptions remain, a fact noted by previous authors such as Mustanoja (1960) and Fischer (1992). One factor involved in these exceptions may lie in the variation observed (e.g. Elsness 1997) among varieties of English in their tense preferences: constructions such as American English I already ate can be paralleled in Middle English examples such as Ich ne seh him neauer ‘I never saw Him’ (St Juliana 100.15), while examples such as mare wunder ilomp ‘greater wonders (have) happened’ (Ancrene Wisse 32.9) may show an even greater tolerance for the preterite than would be possible in present-day American English. This variation may best be interpreted as a difference not in the temporal meaning of the forms involved, but in the pragmatic presuppositions created by their use, in keeping with the approach of Portner (2003).

Some Middle English examples also involve the use of a past tense under a present-tense verb in a way that would be of marginal acceptability in Modern English. This can be seen in examples such as Brut I.384.7424, Ich þonkie mine Drihte[…] þet he swulche mildce; sent to moncunne ‘I thank my Lord that He sent such mercy to mankind’. Although much research on the sequence of tenses (e.g. Abusch 1997; Gennari 2003) has tended to focus on cases in which the matrix verb is in the past tense, it is known that sequence-of-tense phenomena are subject to cross-linguistic variation in their construction and interpretation. Examples such as the above may reflect an underlying difference between Middle English and Modern English in their sequence-of-tense rules.

This preliminary investigation has found a high degree of similarity between Middle English and Modern English in their use of the perfect even at a very early date, in sharp contrast to the patterns found in Old English texts. While the explanations proposed here may help to explain the small number of apparent counterexamples, more work is needed to substantiate these proposals. In particular, a larger data sample might provide further examples to clarify the factors influencing speakers’ choice between the perfect and the preterite, while a more general examination of the sequence of tenses found in Middle English would be essential to establish the details of the system obtaining at this period and the ways in which it might differ from Modern English. Further research in this area has the potential to illuminate many currently obscure details of the Middle English verbal system.


References

Abusch, Dorit, 1997. ‘Sequence of tense and temporal de re’, Linguistics and Philosophy 20, 1–40.

Elsness, Johan, 1997. The Perfect and Preterite in Contemporary and Earlier English, Berlin: de Gruyter

Fischer, Olga, 1992. ‘Syntax’, in Norman Blake (ed.), The Cambridge History of the English Language, vol. 2, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 207–408.

Gennari, Silvia P., 2003. ‘Tense meanings and temporal interpretation’, Journal of Semantics 20 35–71.

Macleod, Morgan, 2014. ‘Synchronic variation in the Old English perfect’, Transactions of the Philological Society 112, 319–343.

Mitchell, Bruce, 1985. Old English Syntax, 2 vols, Oxford: Clarendon.

Mustanoja, Tauno F., 1960. A Middle English Syntax, Helsinki: Societé Néophilologique.

Portner, Paul, 2003. ‘The (temporal) semantics and (modal) pragmatics of the perfect’, Linguistics and Philosophy 26, 459–510.

Rissanen, Matti, et al. (eds.) 1996. The Helsinki Corpus of English Texts, Helsinki: University of Finland, electronic.

Language change in its socio-historical context

On 16 November, a panel of three Early Career Researchers will convene to present their research on language change in its socio-historical context; the presentations will be followed by a round table discussion chaired by Ranjan Sen (Sheffield). The speakers are: Christien Wallis, Claire Childs, and George Bailey; abstracts of their talks can be found below.

The presentations and round table discussion will take place at the University of Sheffield, Humanities Research Institute, 4.15pm.


Standardisation and the Old English Subjunctive

by Chrstine Wallis (University of Sheffield)

Traditional accounts of Old English (‘OE’) (Campbell, 1959; Hogg, 1992) often focus on early or otherwise dialectally marked manuscript texts for evidence of the history of the language.  Such manuscripts are chosen as the basis of this evidence because they are closest to the original author’s or translator’s work, and are felt to reflect ‘real’ OE in a way that later copies do not (Miller, 1890: v-vi).  Where more than one manuscript of a text exists, those which diverge most from the most conservative versions are rarely discussed in detail in general histories.

This paper presents an alternative way of viewing the development of OE, through the more sociolinguistically-orientated lens of scribal copying.  A text with several surviving manuscript witnesses allows us to see what linguistic forms were deemed acceptable to individual language users/writers (i.e. features which were copied literatim), and which were not (i.e. those emended or updated by later copyists) (cf. Laing, 2004).

The OE translation of Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica is one such text, surviving in four main copies, whose scribes diverge to varying degrees from the Mercian dialectal character of the translator’s (now lost) original text.  The paper focuses on one case study, that of plural, preterite subjunctives, which in the earliest manuscripts commonly appear with denasalisation (e.g. hie wolde instead of hie wolden ‘they wanted’).  A range of strategies is used by the scribes studied and this talk will show examples of the different responses of the Bede scribes to this feature when they copied the text.

This paper shows how evidence not normally considered in larger histories of the language can usefully be brought to bear on ideas of standardisation in the pre-Conquest period.  In the absence of direct metalinguistic comment, the actions and decisions of copyists and correctors have much to tell us about attitudes to correctness and linguistic norms in the period.


The present-day interaction of longitudinal changes: Stative possession and negation

by Claire Childs (University of York)

This talk will focus on the modern-day variation between stative possessive HAVE and HAVE GOT in negative contexts, which is the result of two intersecting historical changes. Firstly, DO-support as a means of expressing negation arose in English around the 15th century, but not immediately in stative possessive contexts (Warner 2005). Secondly, stative HAVE GOT came to be used as an alternative to HAVE in around the 16th century (Lorenz 2016: 489). It was not until the 19th century that DO-support became possible with stative HAVE (Hundt 2015: 70). Contemporary studies of British English have indicated that HAVE GOT is becoming increasingly used for the expression of stative possession in affirmative contexts (Tagliamonte 2003), but DO-support is also thought to be rising (Trudgill et al. 2002: 6). With these two tendencies seemingly pulling in different directions – since HAVE GOT is incompatible with DO-support (*I don’t have got any money) – how does this manifest itself in present-day British English?

To answer this question, I will present initial findings from a quantitative variationist analysis of HAVE (GOT) in negative contexts in British English, based on a 2.5-million-word sample of conversational speech from the British National Corpus 2014 (Love et al. 2017). The results reveal that while HAVEN’T GOT was the favoured way of negating a stative among speakers aged 60+, this decreases in apparent-time to the extent that DON’T HAVE becomes the majority form among younger speakers. Although British English is thought to be more variable in terms of the syntactic status of HAVE – i.e. it can behave like an auxiliary or a lexical verb – HAVE is actually rarely contracted and thus has the syntactic properties of a lexical verb, just as in Canadian English (D’Arcy 2015). My findings allow two independent observations of subject-type constraints on contraction (McElhinny 1993) and stative possession variation (Tagliamonte et al. 2010) from the literature to be reconciled. More broadly, my analysis shows how insights gained from separate analyses of single linguistic variables can be explained as part of a larger system within the grammar.


When sound change isn’t led by social change: The case of Northern English (ng)

by George Bailey (University of Manchester)

Incorporating sociolinguistic evaluation into explanatory models of language variation and change has become increasingly popular in recent years (e.g. Eckert 2000; Zhang 2005; Podesva et al. 2015), dating back to Labov’s (1963) influential study of Martha’s Vineyard. However, not all objects of linguistic variation can accrue social meaning (Eckert & Labov 2017), and there remain a number of apparent limitations relating to its role in the incrementation and propagation of sound change (Bermúdez-Otero forthcoming). This paper bears directly on this debate by reporting on a recent change in Northern English /ŋɡ/ clusters, which sees increasing post-nasal [ɡ]-presence in words like wrong and hang when in pre-pausal position (Bailey 2018). Post-nasal /ɡ/-deletion progressed along a systematic pathway of change throughout the Modern English period, following an ordered set of stages laid out by the life cycle of phonological processes (Bermúdez-Otero & Trousdale 2012). However, this new pre-pausal behaviour does not represent the next natural stage along the same pathway of change laid out by the life cycle, but is rather an entirely separate and unpredicted innovation. As such, it is amenable to an analysis in which external factors – such as sociolinguistic evaluation – play a central role.

Independent evidence from a matched-guise task reveals another source of apparent time change: the indexical strength of [ŋɡ] as a feature of northern dialects is increasing over time. However, this does not translate to uniform evaluation, with no evidence of a shared evaluative norm among these subjects. Furthermore, despite the change in production being restricted to pre-pausal contexts, this change in the social meaning of (ng) is not concentrated on any particular environment, suggesting that the two are operating at different levels of granularity and that there is no causal link between them. Consequently, these results cast further doubt on the extent to which social meaning is involved in producing macroscopic patterns of sound change.

TPS 116(2) – Abstract 4

Of Lambkins and Piglets in Old English and Beyond

by Patrick V. Stiles (University College London)

It is suggested that the Old English adjectives geēan and gecealf, each attested once in the same passage, could refer not only to pregnant livestock but also to mothers with their newborn young (as proposed by Osthoff in 1895). The twice occurring sequence gefearh sugu, which is usually taken to be a compound, is here analysed as consisting of a third such adjective used attributively before the noun; as the feminine nominative singular of a heavy‐syllabled adjective, it is endingless. This appears to be a return to an earlier view. A fourth example, gefol, recorded once, is also discussed. The formation of these adjectives is briefly treated, as is the PGmc noun *auna- “lamb” presupposed by the first adjective, together with its presumed relationship to Latin agnus and further cognates. Evidence for the derived class II weak verb *aunôn (reflected in OE *ēanian) in the Germanic languages is presented.

DOI: 10.1111/1467-968X.12121

TPS 116(1) – Abstract 3

The Status of Passive Constructions in Old English

by Howard Jones (University of Oxford) & Morgan Macleod (University of Cambridge)

In Old English, passive‐type constructions involving a copula and a passive participle could be used to express both events and states. Two different types of copula are found in these constructions: weorðan, meaning ‘become’, and wesan and beon, meaning ‘be’. There has been some dispute as to how the meaning of these copulas relates to the meaning of the construction as a whole, in both its eventive and its stative uses, and whether any of these constructions was grammaticalized in the sense that its meaning was non‐compositional. We propose a semantic model that represents these constructions compositionally and test it against a selected corpus of Old English texts in order to address two questions: whether the data provide evidence of non‐compositional meaning that would suggest grammaticalization, and whether other factors are also responsible for the choice of copula. Our analysis suggests that the attested Old English passives are fully compatible with a compositional analysis; we also discuss additional semantic factors that may be responsible for the lower frequency of passives with weorðan.

DOI: 10.1111/1467-968X.12101

TPS 116(1) – Abstract 1

Contrastive Feature Hierarchies in Old English Diachronic Phonology

by Elan Dresher (University of Toronto)

This article looks at the origins and uses of contrastive hierarchies in Old English diachronic phonology, with a focus on the development of West Germanic vowel systems. I begin with a rather enigmatic remark in Richard Hogg’s A grammar of Old English (1992), and attempt to trace its provenance. We will find that the trail leads back to analyses by some prominent scholars that make use of contrastive feature hierarchies. However, these analyses often appear without context or supporting framework. I will attempt to provide the missing framework and historical context for these analyses, while showing their value for understanding the development of phonological systems. I will show that behind these apparently isolated analyses there is a substantial theoretical edifice that once held a central role in synchronic as well as diachronic phonological theory, and which is still capable of providing insights into the workings of phonology.

DOI: 10.1111/1467-968X.12105

Faces of PhilSoc: George Walkden


Name:
George Walkden
Position: Lecturer in English Linguistics
Institution: University of Manchester
Role in PhilSoc: Council member; member of the Publications Committee

 


About You

How did you become a linguist – was there a decisive event, or was it a gradual development?

My favourite subjects at school were languages and maths, and I was always torn between them. During my first degree I gradually realized I could combine the two! I think my desire to continue in academia was born during my year abroad, during which I was clocking in and out every day to translate documents for a pharmaceutical company. I wanted to do a job that rewarded results, not a 9-to-5, and a job that allowed me to keep on learning (and studying language) until I keeled over. After that I was more or less hooked!

What was the topic of your doctoral thesis? Do you still believe in your conclusions?

My doctoral thesis was about reconstructing the syntax of Proto-Germanic. The general conclusions – in particular that syntactic reconstruction is feasible and interesting – I would stand by. I did make at least one major mistake in interpreting results for Old English verb-late clauses, though, and I gave a talk about this at PhilSoc in 2015, retracting my earlier claim.

On what project / topic are you currently working?

Lots of different things! Negation in Middle English, preposition stranding in early Germanic, how to derive and understand Constant Rate Effects in syntactic change… I’m an obsessive collaborator and tangent-taker. I’m also looking to expand my parsed corpus of Old Saxon.

What directions in the future do you see your research taking?

I’m keen to expand my knowledge of computational and mathematical approaches to language change, and am aggressively reading up in this area. Combining this with corpus-based research and predictive theories of acquisition and use is what I’d aim to achieve. One of the things I love about historical syntax is how many different skills you need to develop: philology, syntactic theory, corpus methodology, the general theory of language change, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

How did you get involved with the Philological Society?

Two events aimed specifically at postgrads and early career researchers: one in Cambridge in 2010, and another in Oxford in 2012.


‘Personal’ Questions

Do you have a favourite language – and if so, why?

Old Saxon! It’s the underappreciated sibling of Old High German, and has been unjustifiably ignored, especially within Germany.

Minimalism or LFG?

Minimalism. But I wish we had something like XLE.

 


Looking to the Future

Is there something that you would like to change in academia / HE?

Gold Open Access should be the norm, not the exception. Academic publishing should be scholar-led.

(How) Do you manage to have a reasonable work-life balance?

Honestly, I find it hard to distinguish between the two.

What is your prime tip for younger colleagues?

Don’t be afraid to put your ideas out there! Senior academics are (mostly) not out to get you.