The present study aims to provide a descriptive account of be + -ing periphrases, as in he was reading a book, in the history of the English language. The controversial origin of these periphrases as well as their later evolution and development is discussed, and special attention is devoted to their behaviour in the early Modern English period, which turns out to be an outstanding stage in the history of be + -ing. For this purpose, computerized data from The Helsinki Corpus of English Texts: Diachronic and Dialectal are retrieved and the evidence provided is further analysed and discussed.
The book opens with an introductory chapter which deals with some basic questions, such as the problem of terminology, the formal resemblance between the progressive and other related constructions (e.g. adjectival participles), and also with the definition of the category ‘aspect'. The second chapter offers an overview of the semantics of the progressive, which is a rather complicated issue of English verb syntax.
Attention is devoted to the role played by temporal adverbials in combination with be + ing, to so-called ‘non-progressive verbs', and also to the traditional dichotomy progressive vs. non-progressive (simple) forms.
Throughout the subsequent chapters, the history of the English progressive from Old English to early Modern English is traced on the basis of different parameters, such as paradigm, frequency, distribution and semantics, among others. Other issues included in these chapters are the origin of Old English beon/wesan + -ende, the origin of Middle English be + -ing, the change from Old English -end(e) to Middle English -ing(e) and the development of the gerund in Middle English. As indicated above, the chapter which focuses on the use of the progressive in early Modern English offers data from the Helsinki Corpus. All the examples are classified and studied according to various factors, both linguistic and extralinguistic, including chronology, frequency, paradigm and semantics, as well as their distribution in terms of the type of clause selected and the text type. Finally, the book includes a chapter which summarizes the main conclusions reached.
Paloma Núñez-Pertejo lectures on English as a second language at the Department of English, University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain). Her research is mainly focused on diachronic syntax and grammaticalization, especially in the early Modern English period.