EDITORS: Gotti, Maurizio; Dossena, Marina; Dury, Richard
TITLE: English Historical Linguistics 2006, vols. 1-3
SERIES: Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 295-297
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company
Elizabeth Bell Canon, Department of English, University of Wisconsin at La Crosse
This three volume set highlights selected papers presented at the fourteenth
International Conference on English Historical Linguistics in Bergamo, Italy,
21-25 August 2006. Volume 1: Syntax and Morphology is organized diachronically
in two parts: Old and Middle English, and Early and Late Modern English. Volume
2: Lexical and semantic change is presented in two parts: Pragmatic and
stylistic choices, and Lexical and semantic change. Volume 3: Geo-Historical
Variation in English is a compilation of papers relating to the main topic, or
''the way in which different geographical varieties have manifested themselves
through time, whether in similar or different social contexts, registers and
text types'' (ix). Each volume begins with a common forward, and an introduction
specific to the volume's topic; both written by the editors.
Volume 1: Syntax and Morphology, Part I: Old and Middle English presents nine
papers arranged in chronological order. The first paper, ''The balance between
syntax and discourse in Old English'' by Ans van Kemenade, Tanja Milicev and R.
Harald Baayen explores what they call ''a novel approach to Old English word
order.'' Do certain discourse strategies determine the word order in a language
that is more flexible than Present Day English (PDE)? The authors examine the
position to the left of certain adverbs. The conclusion is ''there is a highly
significant correlation between the specificity of NP and the presence of a
The second paper, ''The Old English copula weorðan and its replacement in Middle
English'' by Peter Petré and Hubert Cuyckens explains the transition from the use
of weorðan to becuman (PDE become) by examining collocates in a specially
constructed corpus. The conclusion drawn is that the collocational preferences
exhibited by the two verbs sealed the fate of weorðan.
''Verb types and word order in Old and Middle English non-coordinate and
coordinate clauses'' by Kristin Bech looks at the progression of English from a
verb-second to verb-medial language. The study is based on a corpus of texts
selected by the author. Bech concludes that ''it may be deduced that word order
is not only determined on the basis of syntactic rules, but is also related to
the information content of the sentence.''
''From locative to durative to focalized? The English progressive and 'PROG
imperfective drift'' by Kristin Killie begins with an explanation of PROG
imperfective drift, followed by a summary of her methods, data and analysis, and
summary and discussion. Using data from the historical section of the Helsinki
Corpus and 6 additional ME texts, Killie concludes that, ''the clearest result of
this corpus study is the finding that the English progressive has become
increasingly focalized: while only twenty-eight percent of the OE progressives
are focalized, sixty-one percent of the Early Modern English progressives are.''
''Gender assignment in Old English'' by Letizia Vezzosi looks at formal gender and
its relationship to semantic roles. Gender assignment is examined according to
the typical [animate] vs. [inanimate] criteria, but also expanded semantic roles
– for instance, agent vs. patient, and degree of individuality. As the need for
grammatical gender distinction wanes, how are the categories affected? The
conclusion drawn by Vezzosi is that ''gender deviance in no way signals the
disintegration of the category, but represents a special circumstance in which
the basic function of gender marking becomes more visible, thanks to the
weakening of the formal nominal inflectional system.''
''On the position of the OE quantifier eall and PDE all'' by Tomohiro Yanagi is a
corpus study of the Catholic Homilies by Ælfric. The paper argues that ''the
quantifier eall is base-generated as the head of the Quantifier Phrase (QP) and
selects an NP as its complement.'' The ordering of the quantifier + pronoun was
examined and the results indicated a far more frequent occurrence of pronoun +
quantifier than the inverse. The question of why such a distribution pattern
would occur was left for another study.
''On the post-finite misagreement phenomenon in Late Middle English'' by Richard
Ingham and Kleanthes K. Grohmann deals with the Early Modern English
(EModE)/Late Middle English (LME) incidence of singular verb + plural subject.
The study found that ''misagreement almost always arose with a postfinite
subject, and co-occurred in texts allowing null impersonal subjects.'' Is the
misagreement structurally determined? The conclusion is that the writers of the
studied texts were influenced by dialectal features common in the London
vernacular of the day.
''Syntactic dialectal variation in Middle English'' by Cristian Suárez-Gómez
focuses on the question of whether or not relativization in Middle English (ME)
dialects is affected by the same process of innovation in the northern dialect
due to Old Norse influence as opposed to the more traditional southern dialects.
The conclusion drawn by the author is that, ''the tendency towards extraposition
typical of ME are associated with southern dialects, while the North shows a
simplified system of relativizers as well as a marked tendency for relative
clauses to be intraposed.''
''Particles as grammaticalized complex predicates'' by Bettylou Los puts forth the
argument that, ''English phrasal verbs represent a grammaticalization, from
Phrase to Head, of a complex predicate construction [and that] [p]redicates and
the particles of phrasal verbs share a number of striking quirks: syntactically,
both may appear with 'unselected objects' and , semantically, both may form
idioms of which the meaning cannot be predicted from its separate parts.'' The
conclusion drawn is that EModE marks a departure of the particle verb from the
restriction of combinations involving ''light'' verbs to those including other
Part II: Early and Late Modern English presents four papers, beginning with
Amanda Pounder's ''Adverb-marking patterns in Earlier Modern English coordinate
constructions.'' Pounder attempts to clarify the role of choice in the selection
of adverbial patterns in coordinate constructions. Her findings suggest that,
''there is one strongly dominant pattern, X-ly AND Y-ly. The minority patterns X
AND Y-ly and X-ly AND Y are rare in written texts of the seventeenth to
nineteenth centuries.'' The ultimate conclusion drawn is that choice does play a
role, particularly those strategies examined: eurythmy, symmetrical concerns, or
variation of form.
'''Tis he, 'tis she, 'tis me, 'tis I – I don't know who...: Cleft and
identificational constructions in 16th to 18th century English plays'' by Claudia
Lange and Ursula Schaefer examines the distribution of 'It is me' vs. 'It is I'
constructions in colloquial speech patterns in the 16th and 18th centuries.
Operating on the widely-held assumption that the object pronoun construction
emerged as a colloquial form in EModE, the paper instead reveals that, ''it is I
or rather 'tis I is the general rule.''
''Emotion verbs with to-infinitive complements: From specific to general
predication'' by Thomas Egan examines the progression of restriction governing
to-infinitive complements of four verbs, like, love, hate, and prefer, over the
course of two hundred years. The conclusion drawn is: ''In Present-day English
the to-infinitive in complement constructions serves just three functions. It is
now restricted to the encoding of predications in the projected-future,
judgments (opinions) on the part of the subject, and general validity
''Subjective progressives in seventeenth and eighteenth century English:
Secondary grammaticalization as a process of objectification'' by Svenja Kranich
begins with a look at progressives in OE and ME, followed by the forms found as
a result of Kranich's research on 17th and 18th century data from the ARCHER – 2
corpus. Subjective meanings were compared with objective meanings from OE to PDE
with special attention to the process of grammaticalization. There is little
change in the nature of the progressive until EModE, where ''the trend becomes
clear that it is more and more restricted to progressive situations, i.e.,
situations which are both imperfective and dynamic and hence most often of
''Volume 2: Lexical and Semantic Change, Part I: Pragmatic and Stylistic Choices''
presents four separate papers beginning with ''Politeness in the history of
English,'' by Andreas H. Jucker. Jucker begins by highlighting the very important
difference between the technical notion of 'politeness,' and the everyday notion
by the same name. He moves on to the thou/you distinction in Chaucer's English,
and then on to review the same distinction in the works of Shakespeare. He
offers a very thorough examination of negative and positive politeness, but
admits that, ''[His] knowledge in this respect is still scattered and does not
allow a clear picture.''
''The which is most and right harde to answere: Intensifying right and most in
earlier English'' by Belén Méndez-Naya investigates the nature of the adjectival
heads modified by both intensifiers, and the progressive dominance of one form
over the other. The conclusion drawn is that although both intensifiers become
relatively frequent in the fourteenth century, the success of right was rather
short-lived, as its frequency decreased dramatically in the EModE period.
''The diachronic development of the intensifier bloody: A case study in
historical pragmatics'' by Stefania Biscetti examines the environment in which
bloody is found in the corpus to elucidate the grammaticalization of the
intensifier function of the word. Her conclusion is that bloody ''has acquired
greater syntactic flexibility through time [... and that] the history of bloody
is marked by an increase in pragmatic scope, and its evolution as a focus marker.''
''Variation and change in the writings of 17th century scientists'' by Lilo
Moessner is a corpus-based analysis of six texts from the period. The research
allows Moessner to refute some earlier studies, reject some earlier claims, and
confirm claims that these texts were being written in a more abstract style than
earlier texts of the same genre. The author concludes that during the specified
period, ''Science texts became less involved, more narrative, more elaborate,
less persuasive, and more abstract.''
''Part II: Lexical and semantic change'' begins with ''The convergence of two need
verbs in Middle English'' by Lucía Loureiro-Porto, which attempts to clarify the
relationship of two distinctly different derivatives of the OE noun neod,
'necessity.' Loureiro-Porto uses Force Dynamics to interpret the data from her
study, claiming that ''Force Dynamics is the key for the interpretation of modal
necessity and, more specifically, the key for the overlapping of need v.1 and
need v.2 and their evolution, because (1) it incorporates semantic nuances not
present in other frameworks [...] and (2) it allows us to accommodate the
intermediate cases of the semantic cline of the development of these verbs.''
''Rivalry among the verbs of wanting'' by Minoji Akimoto demonstrates that, ''in
the case of desire, hope, want, and wish, desire has become archaic and formal
in terms of registers; hope, want, and wish share the use of to-infinitive; and
hope and wish are followed by a subordinate clause (with an indicative verb
after hope, a subjunctive after wish). In this way, while these verbs show
semantic synonymity, they form a syntactically different set of relations,
tending to assume rivalry within the categories (auxiliary verbs, wanting verbs.)''
''A look at respect: Investigating metonymies in Early Modern English'' by Heli
Tissari examines the noun and verb, respect, and their accompanying sets of
senses: (1) reasoning, and (2) sociability. The conclusion drawn by the author
is that, ''the whole concept of RESPECT in English could be defined in terms of
metonymy. It resembles a hall of mirrors which invites a person to see and
consider anything that is put before the mirrors, reflecting wholes and parts,
pulling their various aspects apart and putting them together.''
''Germanic vs. French fixed expressions in Middle English prose: Towards a
corpus-based historical English phraseology'' by Manfred Markus examines the West
Germanic heritage in certain ME expressions. Markus found that lexical word
groups would tend to petrify as a whole unit, thus ''many Early ME fixed
expressions have turned out to be leftovers of old patterns [and that] [j]ust as
present native speakers, people of medieval English spoke in chunks rather than
merely in words, more so than historical English grammar has so far taken into
''Latin loanwords of the early modern period: How often did French act as an
intermediary?'' by Philip Durkin examines the nature and interaction of
borrowings from French and Latin during the EModE period as documented in the
3rd edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED3). Of particular interest is
what the OED3 called ''dual etymology.'' Durkin states that, ''[b]y far the
commonest pattern, although by no means the only one, is the borrowing of a word
partly from French and partly directly from Latin, as identified through the
range of senses found in each language, and through the contexts of the early
uses of the English word.'' The conclusion drawn is that during the EModE period,
borrowings into English came primarily from Latin, not French.
''Disseisin: The lexeme and the legal fact in Early Modern English'' by R.W.
McConchie is an examination of disseisin (and related words) from its earliest
attestation until 1200. McConchie posits that the lexeme occurred in Latin
texts, and might therefore be available to speakers of ME as a borrowing or
perhaps by codeswitching. The conclusion drawn by McConchie is that, ''[i]f the
terms discussed here were required for legal and administrative discourse in
Latin, they may also have been required in English,'' facilitating borrowing by
those in that profession.
Next is ''Was Old French –able borrowable?: A diachronic study of word-formation
processes due to language contact'' by Carola Trips and Achim Stein. In sum, the
authors ''argued against the assumptions that in OF the active meaning was
clearly dominant and that in ME the free morpheme able explains the rise of the
suffix –able. The semantic analysis has shown that an adequate word-formation
rule should account for the event structure of the base verb rather than rely on
the syntactic or semantic frame alone.''
''Women and other 'small things': -ette as a feminine marker'' by Lucia Kornexl
reveals, ''a number of special traits that can only be explained as the results
of specific conditions operative in the English system.'' The ultimate
observation is that, ''it is probably the combined operation of two seemingly
contradictory factors that gave rise to this gender-specific pattern and have
[sic] secured its survival: the word-formational status that suggests itself for
female –ette words of whatever origin and structure on account of their
emphatically stressed final element and their marked potential to adopt
additional, evaluative meanings and fuse them into complex holistic concepts.''
''Volume 3: Geo-Historical Variation in English'' begins with ''The early Middle
English scribe: Sprach er wie er schrieb?'' by Margaret Laing, a look at the
relationship between spoken and written English with regard to the work of
individual scribes. She writes, ''Pronunciation is an object of discovery, not a
premiss.'' In other words, when examining ME with regard to written symbol –
phonetic realization, the researcher must take into account the individual
''Essex/Suffolk scribes and their language in fifteenth-century London'' by Lister
M. Matheson examines specific works by scribes from East Anglia and their
contribution to the establishment of the London standard in the fifteenth
century. Despite the fact that they brought dialectal features to their work,
''[s]uch practices must have been quite acceptable to their customers [...] and
their unconscious influence on slowly developing standard English should not be
''Middle English word geography: Methodology and applications illustrated'' by
Maria José Carrillo-Linares and Edurne Garrido-Anes proposes the use of lexical
material in the localization of a text. The authors state that, ''even if the
lexical choices can be conditioned by different factors, the global study of the
lexical information together with the phono-graphological features might help to
localise some texts more precisely.''
''Northern Middle English: Towards telling the full story'' by Julia
Fernández-Cuesta and M Nieves Rodríguez-Ledesma explores in depth varieties of
ME in what was the OE Northumbrian region and any features which may have
survived into EModE. The authors conclude that, ''a considerable number of
features of contemporary Northern dialects can be traced back to Old
Northumbrian or to innovations that appear in ME.''
''The origins of the Northern Subject Rule'' (NSR) by Nynke de Haas explores the
possibility that language contact between speakers of early English and
Brythonic Celtic was the source of the aforementioned syntactic trait. The
author points out that, ''The NSR has the characteristics of a synthesis of the
Brythonic pattern of anti-agreement,'' making a treatment of the topic worthwhile.
''Dynamic dialectology and social networks'' by Mieko Ogura and William S-Y Wang
explores the application of social network theory to the phenomenon of language
change, concluding that ''the weaker the social bias, the greater the effects of
different network structures on diffusion processes of change.''
''The Celtic Hypothesis hasn't gone away: New perspectives on old debates'' by
Markku Filppula revisits the idea that English was impacted by Celtic languages
spoken in Britain more than previously believed. Filppula strengthens the
argument by pointing out that, ''the observed Celtic influences are not confined
to just one or two features, but appear to have affected several 'core' areas of
''On the trail of 'intolerable Scoto-Hibernic jargon': Ulster English, Irish
English and dialect hygiene in William Carleton's Traits and stories of the
Irish peasantry (First Series, 1830)'' by Kevin McCafferty looks at the impact of
dialect prejudice on the formation of a national Irish English literature.
McCafferty's conclusion is that Carleton's ''removal of marked Ulster Scots
features from his peasant's speech was intended to help his portrayal of
northern peasant life to gain acceptance as an authentic picture of peasant
Ireland as a whole.''
''Exceptions to sound change and external motivation'' by Raymond Hickey explores
the factors responsible for sound change in Dublin English. His conclusion is
that, ''Along with other historically attested cases, this current change shows
that speakers would seem to have some notion of phonological vowel space and
that they participate in changes involving sets of elements within this space.''
This three volume set is a tremendous resource for those interested in a wide
variety of topics in historical English. The scholarship is largely based on
corpus studies and in most cases employs cutting-edge methodology. Because it is
a compilation of conference papers, the writing lacks the coherence that a book
produced by one author or a united group of authors would produce. In some
cases, the transition from one chapter to the next is difficult to navigate. The
layout of the material does help to alleviate confusion: The first volume deals
with papers on syntax and morphology and is organized chronologically. The
second volume covers change, both lexical and semantic and is further subdivided
into two parts. The third volume is a bit less focused, dealing with
dialectology spread out over both time and space. All in all, the research
presented in this collection is well worth studying and should provoke further
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Elizabeth Bell Canon is Assistant Professor of Linguistics at the University of
Wisconsin at La Crosse, where she teaches classes in English language and
linguistics. Her research interests include the contributions of pre-modern
biblical translators to the history of English, and the history of Southern