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LINGUIST List 22.2392

Wed Jun 08 2011

Diss: Historical Ling/Syntax: Sommerer: 'Old English se from ...'

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        1.     Lotte Sommerer , Old English se from Demonstrative to Article. A usage-based study of nominal determination and category emergence

Message 1: Old English se from Demonstrative to Article. A usage-based study of nominal determination and category emergence
Date: 06-Jun-2011
From: Lotte Sommerer <lotte.sommererunivie.ac.at>
Subject: Old English se from Demonstrative to Article. A usage-based study of nominal determination and category emergence
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Institution: Universität Wien
Program: Department of English
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2011

Author: Lotte Sommerer

Dissertation Title: Old English se from Demonstrative to Article. A usage-based study of nominal determination and category emergence

Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics

Subject Language(s): English (eng)

Dissertation Director:
Olga Fischer
Nikolaus Ritt

Dissertation Abstract:

Contributing to the ongoing debate about the existence of a definite
article in Old English, the thesis discusses patterns of nominal
determination in Old English and their influence on the phenomenon of the
emergence of the category 'article'. Specifically, a usage-based study of
the Old English demonstrative se (seo - þæt) and its development into the
definite article 'the' is carried out. Theoretically, this study is
embedded into a broader discussion of linguistic gradience, diachronic
gradualness, grammaticalization and reanalysis. Empirically, it is based on
a large quantitative and qualitative analysis of definite NP patterns in
several early Old English prose texts in the The York-Toronto-Helsinki
Parsed Corpus of Old English Prose (YCOE)). For analysis, the CorpusSearch
Program and AntConc were used.

To shed some light on the causal mechanisms behind the given observable
linguistic change - from a grammar that has no definite article to a
grammar that employs this functional category - the study elaborates a
possible WHEN and WHY. A central aim in this regard was to set up clear,
testable criteria for 'articlehood' and to check if these criteria can be
successfully applied to an older language stage. It is shown that
demarcating the category 'article' from other categories like the
'demonstrative' is by no means a simple task. To answer the question of
whether the article already existed in Old English, the semantic and
syntactic behavior of the demonstrative pronoun is investigated thoroughly
by analyzing a large data set with a special focus on the Peterborough and
Parker Chronicle.

It is argued that the article category developed due to the previous
emergence of a positional, syntactic, lexically underspecified
'determination slot', which becomes functional itself. Thus, it is proposed
that the change from demonstrative to definite article is a change driven
by a 'lexically underspecified [syntactic] construction' (van de Velde
2010: 291). In other words, the grammaticalization of a schematic
construction with a slot (Trousdale & Traugott 2010: 12; cf. De Smet 2008;
Bybee 2003a,b 2007; Traugott 2006). The empirical evidence adduced suggests
that this determination slot already existed in early Old English.

Next to being influenced by semantic-pragmatic factors, the development of
the definite article is conceptualized as a so-called 'form-driven
change' (Fischer 2007: 66), where mostly formal 'system-internal' factors
(e.g. structural simplification as a principle of economy) are responsible
for the grammaticalization of the demonstrative (cf. Hawkins 2004). It is
demonstrated that the grammaticalization of the schematic construction was
mostly triggered by analogical reasoning (formal pattern recognition and
transfer) (cf. Fischer 2007; De Smet 2010). Grammaticalization is seen as
an epiphenomenal result and a notion which should be split up 'into more
fundamental mechanisms … including (among others) analogy' (De Smet 2009:
1730). Analogy is treated as a 'psychologically real phenomenon which has
causal efficiency both in language as in culture' and is not simply a
'descriptive device' (Itkonen 2005: xii). Analogy is thus conceptualized
in a wider sense as 'rule generalization/extension' at a higher
meta-linguistic level (Traugott & Trousdale 2010: 36; Fischer 2007).

Although the development of the article category is definitely a
multi-causal phenomenon, this study suggests that complex analogy and
frequency effects are the main driving forces behind the observable
linguistic change (Fischer 2007: 4). The frequency of linguistic surface
forms (i.e. concrete tokens), the influence of taxonomically related
constructions, and preferences in cognitive on-line processing are in
particular seen as reasons for the diachronic development.

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