LINGUIST List 2.163

Wednesday, 24 Apr 1991

Disc: Dummy There

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  1. , Re: Query: Transitive constructions with Dummy 'There'
  2. , Dummy there

Message 1: Re: Query: Transitive constructions with Dummy 'There'

Date: Tue, 23 Apr 91 10:56:04 EDT
From: <>
Subject: Re: Query: Transitive constructions with Dummy 'There'
Concerning non-locative `there', Visser (1963:52) writes: `Its use 
with transitive verbs in the active `voice' ... seems to have died
out in the course of the sixteenth century.' Visser's 3 examples
are from the OED, which adds the qualification: `usually before
an auxiliary of tense or mood.' These are what I call the
`modal-existential', which flourished in Middle English (1a-b),
and is attested in my own data into the 18th c. (1c). I have a
20th c. example as well, but it occurs in a mystery novel set in
the 12th c. and appears to be an attempted medievalism (1d).

1a. early 14th Havelok 2077: Jt ne shal nothing ben bitwene /
 thi bour and min ...
 it not shall nothing be between your bower and mine

1b. 1493 Tretyse of Loue 69.19: ... there can noo tongue saye
 nor hert thynke how merueyllous grete sorowes & pyteous
 tormentes was in the herte of that blessid vyrgyne mary.
 `No tongue can say nor heart think what marvellously great
 sorrows and piteous torments were in the heart of that
 Blessed Virgin Mary.'

1c. 1711 Addison Spectator 125: There cannot a greater Judgment befall
 a country ...

1d. 1981 Peters St. Peter's Fair 149: There has many a man gone
 through that gate without a safe-conduct ...

As far as I know, this useful construction is dead, though something
remarkably similar is to be found in some varieties of American English
(cf. Labov 1972:188 `I know a way that can't nobody start a fight' -
Willie J., Chicago). I would be very interested to see modern examples
with a dummy subject. As for non-modal existentials with transitive verbs,
the only modern examples of which I am aware involve postposing to the
end of the clause, which is a different phenomenon (and still alive), e.g.:

2. At this point, there hit the embankment a shell from our own lines.
 (Kayne 1980, cited in Lumsden 1988:238)
 [compare: *There hit a shell ... the embankment]

Cathy Ball, University of Pennsylvania and General Electric Co.

Ball, C. (forthcoming) The historical development of the it-cleft. PhD.
 thesis, U. Penn.
Fisher, J., ed. 1951. The Tretyse of Loue. EETS OS 223. Oxford, OUP.
Labov, W. 1972. Language in the Inner City. Philadelphia: University
 of Pennsylvania Press.
Lumsden, M. 1988. Existential Sentences: Their Structure and Meaning.
 London: Croom Helm.
Peters, Ellis. 1981. St. Peter's Fair. Ballentine Books.
Ross, A., ed. 1982. Richard Steele and Joseph Addison: Selections from
 The Tatler and The Spectator. Middlesex: Penguin Books.
Smithers, G. V., ed. 1987. Havelok. Oxford: The Clarendon Press.
Visser, F. Th. 1963. An Historical Syntax of the English Language. Vol. I.
 Leiden: Brill.
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Message 2: Dummy there

Date: Tue, 23 Apr 91 22:46:10 EDT
From: <>
Subject: Dummy there
I have had an enormous number of responses regarding dummy there
with transitives, but only today did I hear from Beth Levin, who
points out that such examples have been discussed by
Jesperson (take place, cross path, reach ear, reach him), by Bolinger
in the chapter entitled "There" in his book "Form and Meaning" (hold
Jakobson in their book on inversion in English (await him, follow him,
enter the room), by Kayne in LI 10 (reach ear, hit the embankment,
enter the room, cross mind), among others.

Since my best example in fact involved the verb 'await', I guess
this means that I have not discovered anything new. Back to the
books, I guess!

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