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Vowel Length From Latin to Romance

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Letter Writing and Language Change

Edited By Anita Auer, Daniel Schreier, and Richard J. Watts

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Academic Paper


Title: Functional motivations in the development of nominal and verbal gerunds in Middle and Early Modern English
Author: Hendrik de Smet
Email: click here TO access email
Institution: Université Catholique de Louvain
Linguistic Field: Historical Linguistics; Syntax; Text/Corpus Linguistics
Subject Language: English
English, Middle
Abstract: This article examines the use of three gerund constructions in Middle and Early Modern English on the basis of corpus data covering the period 1250–1640. The constructions examined are verbal gerunds (eating the apple), bare nominal gerunds (eating of the apple), and definite nominal gerunds (the eating of the apple). It is argued that the success of verbal gerunds in the history of English can only be understood against the background of the interaction with their nominal counterparts. An analysis is offered of how the system of gerund constructions is functionally organised, comparing discourse-functional behaviour, distribution, and internal syntax across the three gerund types. It is shown that verbal gerunds closely resemble bare nominal gerunds in terms of discourse-functional behaviour and distribution, but are syntactically more flexible. As a result, verbal gerunds could replace bare nominal gerunds, copying their function but adding syntactic flexibility. By contrast, definite nominal gerunds, being functionally distinct from the other two types, developed a number of specialised uses, which ensured their survival. These conclusions throw light on issues of functional motivation in the development of the English gerund. Historical change is seen to be grounded in synchronic functional organisation. At the same time, it is shown that the only existing explanation for the rise of verbal gerunds (attributing their success to their ability to combine with prepositions) can only be partly correct.

CUP AT LINGUIST

This article appears IN English Language and Linguistics Vol. 12, Issue 1, which you can READ on Cambridge's site or on LINGUIST .



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