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Review of  English Historical Linguistics 2008

Reviewer: Penelope Thompson
Book Title: English Historical Linguistics 2008
Book Author: Ursula Lenker Judith Huber Robert Mailhammer
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Text/Corpus Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 22.3589

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EDITORS: Lenker, Ursula, Judith Huber, and Robert Mailhammer
TITLE: English Historical Linguistics 2008
SUBTITLE: Selected papers from the fifteenth International Conference on English
Historical Linguistics (ICEHL 15), Munich, 24-30 August 2008. Volume I: The
history of English verbal and nominal constructions
SERIES TITLE: Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 314
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2010

Penelope J. Thompson, Linguistics and English Language, University of Edinburgh


This book presents a collection of fourteen selected papers from the ICEHL
conference of 2008, Munich. This volume is dedicated to morphosyntactic
phenomena in the history of English, ranging from changes in OE (e.g.
Johannesson, Wischer etc.) to changes currently in progress (e.g. Close and
Aarts, Sellgren etc.). The intended audience ranges from those interested in
modeling syntactic change to scholars interested in the issues involved when
analyzing historical data sets. Additionally the volume would of course be of
interest to anyone interested in the history of the English Language.

The volume is divided into four parts. The first and largest part contains papers
dealing with verbal constructions, second with modality, the third with the noun
phrase and the final past with syntactic variation and change through language
contact. The volume begins with an introductory chapter by the editors, which
draws attention to the recent trend in historical syntax for more functional
approaches and heavily data-focussed studies. They observe the similarities
between fine-grained studies and traditional philology, concluding that detailed
corpus studies further the aims of traditional philology (p. 2). The value of these
detailed data orientated studies as documentary exercises in their own right is
noted, but also that, as in the case of this volume, many such studies may serve
as the foundation for theoretical inferences.

A chapter by chapter summary will now be provided:

''Þonne hate we hine morgensteorra'': On verb complementation in Old English
(Nils-Lennart Johannesson): The volume begins with a part on verbal
constructions, the first chapter of which discusses how to account for verbal
constructions which allow for combinations of nominative and accusative
complements in Old English. Naming verbs also allow for combined
nominative/dative complements; a fact that Johannesson observes has been
noted in the literature (Mitchell 1985: 636, Visser 1963: 212), but not particularly
elaborated on. The nominative + accusative combination exemplified in the
chapter title has been termed ''remarkable'' by Visser (1963: 553), though this has
also had little in the way of explanation. Within the framework of Government and
Binding Theory (Haegeman 1994), Johannesson provides an account that is based
on three dimensions of verb categorization: 'copularity' (whether or not a verb has a
complement marked for nominative case), 'transitivity' (the presence or absence of
a complement marked for the oblique case) and 'status' (the type of subject the
verb takes).

Tracking and explaining variation and change in the grammar of American English
(Juhani Rudanko): This paper investigates the adjective 'accustomed' with respect
to the predicate it selects, which shows variation between a 'to' infinitive and a 'to -
ing' complement in American English. Through close examination of the relevant
forms in the TIME corpus, Rudanko observes firstly that there is evidence to
suggest that Vosberg's (2003: 308) 'Extraction Principle' may be applied to
adjuncts, meaning that the infinitive will tend to be favoured. Secondly, it is
observed that there is a semantic distinction influencing the distribution. The 'to'
infinitive appears to be selected when there is an element of choice, whereas the
'to -ing' complement is associated with a lack of choice.

'Prevent' and the battle of the -ing clauses: Semantic divergence? (Elina Sellgren):
Sellgren investigates the competition in British English between similar
complements following 'prevent', in particular those including from + -ing ('prevent
him from robbing the bank'), those with 0 + -ing ('prevent him robbing the bank'),
and also with reference to the older, rarer genitive variant ('prevent his robbing the
bank') (examples from Mair 2002). This is a corpus-based, data-orientated study
presenting a semantic distinction as a factor in determining the choice of the two
variants in British English. Sellgren refers to corpus studies (Mair 2002) that
demonstrate that in British English there is an approximately equal distribution of '0
-ing' and 'from -ing' variants, and notes that this is the result of a recent change.
However, the author's data (Sellgren 2010: 3) show that although the overall
distribution is close to equal, certain texts demonstrate a heavy preference for one
variant or the other. She goes on to question why such a swift change has taken
place, and what factors might influence the choice of sentential complements.
Sellgren ultimately links the 'from -ing' variant to the idea of hypotheticality, while
linking the '0 -ing' variant to the idea of a realized event, or permanence.

Prescription or practice? 'Be/have' variation with past participles of mutative
intransitive verbs in the letters of Joseph Priestley (Robert Straaijer): Straaijer's
contribution focusses on the use of auxiliaries 'be' and 'have' when used with the
participles of mutative intransitive verbs such as 'go' or 'become.' In Old English
'have' is used only with transitive verbs, although a change through Middle English
to Late Modern English causes it also to be used for mutative and intransitive
verbs. This study focuses on the language of the grammarian Joseph Priestly
(1733-1804) and aims to assess whether his idiolect is conservative or innovative,
and whether it is in line with his descriptions as a grammarian. Straaijer creates a
corpus (Joseph Priestly Letter Corpus, or JPLC) of Priestly's unedited language,
and examines the data from letters, both formal and informal in order to ascertain
whether the register affects the distribution of 'be' and 'have.' This is compared to
data from Rydén & Brorström (1987). In Priestly's language, time and register are
not shown to be significant variables, and on a closer examination of each of the
relevant verbs in turn, it is revealed that certain verbs favour one variant, for
example, in the case of 'miscarry,' Priestly favours 'have,' while favouring neither
variant in particular in the case of 'go.' This part of the analysis provides detailed
information about the behavior of Rydén & Brorström (1987) and JPLC with respect
to 'return,' 'miscarry,' 'become,' 'recover,' 'go,' 'arrive,' and 'come.' Straaijer
concludes that Priestly's language is representative of a middle class literate
person of his time, and that it does indeed reflect his grammatical descriptions,
appearing not to prescribe one variant over the other, but believing that the choice
depends on context.

On the idiomization of 'give + O + to' constructions (Minoji Akimoto): Akimoto's
chapter is a detailed diachronic study into the idiomization process of the 'give + O
+ to' construction from Middle English to Present Day English, which examines the
OED CD-ROM, the Helsinki Corpus, the ARCHER Corpus and the FLOB Corpus.
Historically, 'give + indirect object + to' constructions were more common than
those with a direct object, such as 'give birth to.' However, Akimoto notes that in
Middle English the 'give + O + to' constructions became frequent and productive.
Akimoto (2010: 85) makes a distinction between eventive nouns as the O element,
which are semantically an extension of a verb, and non-eventive nouns, observing
that the 'give + O + to' constructions where 'O' is an eventive noun are more likely
to be idiomatized than those with non-eventive nouns. Akimoto concludes that
short eventive nouns without suffixes are susceptible to idiomization, and presents
evidence of semantic bleaching, weakening of 'nouniness' (Ross 1973: 141) and
the loss of syntactic freedom.

The clausal complementation of GOOD in extraposition constructions: The
emergence of partially filled constructions (An Van linden): Van linden's
contribution focuses on the clausal complement patterns associated with 'good' in
extraposition constructions. Van linden compares the patterns with GOOD to those
found with other deontic-evaluative adjectives, such as 'appropriate' and
'important.' This is a corpus study, examining data from Old English to Present
Day English found in five large corpora, with the use of a multiple distinctive
collexeme analysis (Gries & Stefanowitsch 2004). Van linden shows that in
Present Day English, 'good' favours propositional 'to-' clauses, in particular locative
and knowledge/acquisition of knowledge patterns, whereas other deontic-
evaluative adjectives prefer mandative 'to-'clauses.

The 'fail to' construction in Late Modern and Present-Day English (Thomas Egan):
Egan's paper investigates the change in the 'fail to' construction over the last three
hundred years, which was almost always negated in the earlier period under
observation, but now surfaces without negation in the majority of instances. In
addition to the negation, Egan also notes that there used to be an assumption that
the subject of the 'fail to' construction was 'trying' to perform the action. This is
also a corpus study, examining data from the Corpus of Late Modern English
Texts (CLMET), and also a selection of Present Day English corpora (Egan 2010:
127). Egan also notes a semantic change, in which there is an increase in 'fail to'
used in conjunction with ideas of perception and understanding, and also a rise in
the use of 'fail to' used in a global sense, i.e. where the subject does not 'fail to x'
on a single occasion. Egan goes on to argue that this lack of negation of 'fail to'
shows evidence of grammaticalization as a new form of negation. Egan notes that
there is no current need for a new marker of negation, but that 'fail to' could fulfil
the role should there be one.

The interplay of modal verbs and adverbs: A history of MÆG EAÞE (Jerzy
Nykiel): Nykiel investigates the status of MÆG EAÞE 'may easily' throughout Old
and Middle English. This is a harmonic combination of modal verb + modal adverb,
in which the adverb reinforces the possibility- based meaning of the verb 'may.'
The demise of this construction is shown to be due to the replacement of EAÞE
with the French loan 'esili' (1300) (Nykiel 2010: 146). Nykiel considers the
possibility that the construction may be lexicalized already in Old English, based
on typologies of idiomization (Himmelmann 2004: 27, Brinton & Traugott 2005: 55)
and concludes that the behaviour of MÆG EAÞE does not fulfil the conditions of
idiomization in some of the examples cited from West Saxon, as there is no
decrease in productivity or substitutability. However, though not the focus of this
chapter, Nykiel notes that there is evidence for such indications of idiomization in
some of the Anglian texts (Nykiel 2010: 160).

Current change in the modal system of English: A case study of 'must,' 'have to'
and 'have got to' (Joanne Close and Bas Aarts): This paper investigates the
decline of the modal 'must,' and the rise of semi-modals 'have to' and 'have got to'
in Present-Day British English. The data come from the Diachronic Corpus of
Present-Day Spoken English. The distribution of the above (semi-)modals is
examined, and broken down into the following semantic types: Epistemic modality,
Ambiguity, Root modality and Performative modality. Full data counts are
provided. Although 'must' is on the decline, it remains the favoured modal for
epistemic use, and epistemic 'have to' has not increased (Close & Aarts 2010:
176). The authors, in contrast to Krug (2000) and Leech (2003) suggest that the
data may indicate that there is a connection between the decline of 'must' and the
rise of 'have to.' The authors suggest that ''strength of commitment'' (Huddleston &
Pullum 2002: 175) can provide an explanation for the decline of 'must,' and that a
decline in forms expressing strong commitment is in evidence.

Discontinuous quantificational structures in Old English (Artur Bartnik): Bartnik's
paper focuses on discontinuous quantificational structures in Old English. An
example of such a structure is Quantifier Floating, in which the noun which is
qualified by the quantifier is not adjacent to it, although both elements syntactically
form a constituent at some level. Bartnik discusses such constructions in relation
to examples from Old English, in which quantifier floating appears to be evidenced.
Bartnik notes that in the literature there have been accounts in which this
constitutes movement, and others in which the elements are base generated in
their surface positions. Bartnik goes on to argue that such structures cannot all be
treated in the same way, and that some structures arise from movement, and that
others cannot be due to movement, but must be base generated. Two types of
movement are identified: topicalization, in which the structure appears above the
personal pronoun, and scrambling, in which the quantifier appears below the
personal pronoun. Examples in which movement cannot occur are evidenced by
the lack of agreement between the two elements.

Genitive variation in letters, history writing and sermons in Late Middle and Early
Modern English (Teo Juvonen): Juvonen's contribution presents an analysis of
genitive variation between the 'of-' genitive and the 's--' genitive within Late Middle
English and Early Modern English which is based on data from three corpora. The
study seeks to isolate any behaviour that is influenced by register, and thus
separates the data into letters, history writing and sermons. Juvonen begins by
discussing the factory that influence genitive variation in Present-Day English,
such as animacy, and also topicalization, in which the 's'-genitive allows the
possessor to become known to the listener first. The results show that genre is
more important than period in relation to the selection of genitives. There was not a
statistically significant rise or fall in the ration of 's'-genitives to 'of' genitives
throughout the three periods. However, there was a highly statistically significant
correlation between genre and percentage of 's'-genitives, with sermons having the
fewest, and the more informal letters having the most. Juvonen also notes the
importance of other factors; for example, all genres favour the 's'-genitive with
short, given possessors in prototypical genitives.

On the use of 'beon' and 'wesan' in Old English (Ilse Wischer): Wischer focuses on
the choice in Old English between 'beon' and 'wesan.' Standard handbooks assume
that 'beon' is for future events and statements of general truth, while 'wesan' is
used for immediate present relevance. A data analysis of the Old English part of
the Helsinki Corpus is presented. Within the indicative, the data indicate that the
1st and 2nd sg. favour the 's'-form, and that although the 3rd and plural also favour
the 's'-form, it is to a lesser extent. Wischer notes that the b-form found in the 3rd
person sg. is a innovation within Old English, with no parallel in other West and
North Germanic Languages. The plural had a higher percentage of 'b'-forms than
was found in any other case. In the subjunctive, Wischer finds evidence to
contradict Brunner's (1951: 259) assumption that SIE does not appear in Mercian.
Wischer concludes that the 'b'-forms found in the 1st and 2nd sg. are inherited
from proto Germanic, but that the 'b'-forms in the 3rd sg. and the plural, bið and
beoð are innovations. The difference between 'beon' and 'wesan,' she notes, is that
of future and present, and also one of 'habitual present' and 'current present.'

The reflexes of OE 'beon' as a marker of futurity in early Middle English (Margaret
Laing): Laing's paper is the second contribution in part four on syntactic variation
and change through contact, and continues the theme of the choice of 'beon' as a
marker of futurity. As described in the last chapter, Old English is more likely to
select b-forms for the future. In Laing's chapter, the continuing behaviour of 'beon'
in Middle English is investigated. The data for this chapter have arisen from the
work on early Middle English manuscripts as part of the compiling of the Linguistic
Atlas of Early Middle English (LAEME, Laing & Lass 2008). Before the data
analysis, Laing considers descriptions fund within Ælfric's grammar of Late West
Saxon, and also a later early Middle English copy. Laing Explains that in this
Latin-Old English Grammar, Ælfric clearly uses 'b'-forms bið/beoð when talking
about future, and 's'-forms ys/synd/synt when referring to the present. Laing
provides details of the corpus analysis and tagging procedure. The evidence from
the LAEME corpus indicates that in some dialects this distinction of futurity
continues into Middle English. Laing also notes the rise of 'shall' as a marker for
futurity, though she notes the importance of distinguishing between purely future
occurrences, and those with (some) deontic sense. Examination of the data
reveals four distinct systems involving the present sg. indicative, the present
plural indicative, the subjunctive and the future: Type 1: Southerly Mixed, Type 2:
Southerly discrete, Type 3: Midland system and Type 4: Northern System. All of
these systems favour the s-type in the present indicative singular, but variation
across the other categories is in evidence.

Stylistic fronting in the history of English (Masayuki Ohkado): Ohkado's chapter
addresses the question of whether there is evidence that stylistic fronting in Old
and Middle English is due to Scandinavian influence (as argued by Trips 2002), or
whether it is truly a process in the history of English. This chapter gives almost
equal weight to data and theoretical analysis, and will therefore be of interest to
linguistics with interests in syntactic theory as well as historical linguists. Stylistic
fronting occurs in Icelandic, and Ohkado begins by describing the properties of the
process, noting that it is constrained by two conditions: 1. The Subject Gap
Condition (SGC), which states that stylistic fronting only occurs in clauses with a
subject gap, and the Accessibility Hierarchy (AH), which determines which
potential candidate for fronting will be selected if more than one option exists
(2010: 258). Ohkado's data reveal that the stylistic fronting pattern surfaces in Old
and Middle English, and he argues that this is unlikely to be the result of language
contact, as the pattern occurs in dialects from areas such as the South, Kent and
the West Midlands, which would be unlikely to have had significant contact with
Scandinavian influences.


It is unfortunately not possible to provide a detailed evaluation of each analysis
within the volume. This selection of papers provides a coherent read, and offers a
wide range of phenomena and treatments. This is partly due to the excellent
organization of the contents into subject-based parts. The first part, which focuses
on verbal constructions begins with a highly theory-based chapter by
Johannesson, which provides a syntactic account of a hitherto unaccounted for
phenomenon. As one reads on throughout the volume, it becomes clear that this
collection also provides data-focused work that would be relevant to those who are
most interested in diachronic and synchronic data analysis. The corpus work
evident throughout the volume provides valuable insights into the grammars under
investigation, and ranges from focused examination of specific examples (e.g.
Nykiel) to full data counts and/or statistical analysis (e.g. Van linden, Wischer and
many more). A chapter displaying an interesting use of both is Sellgren's, which
involves corpus data counts to ascertain the distribution of the relevant
phenomenon, and also, in discussing the possible reasons for the choice of one
variant over another, scrutiny of specific examples. Her analysis in involves the
claim that the level of hypotheticality correlates with the choice of one variant over
the other. Her assessments of hypotheticality in the examples are plausible, and it
would be interesting to see whether these correlations are confirmed once all
examples are classified according to hypotheticality criteria. Sellgren notes (2010:
53) that the authors of certain texts display a higher preference for one variant over
another, which leads the reader to wonder whether other factors, such as
sociolinguistic factors or register, play a role at all.

The scope of this volume in terms of the history of English is comprehensive, with
Old, Middle, Early Modern and Present Day English all being well represented. The
chapter by Joanne Close and Bas Aarts provides a fascinating data-focused
insight into an ongoing change in British English. Laing and Wischer's chapters
work particularly well together, providing valuable data and insights into the use of
'beon' ('to be'), with Wisher investigating whether the use of Old English 'beon' to
express futurity is is borne out in the data, and Laing examining whether this
usage survives into Middle English.

In addition to a discussion of the debate surrounding processes of syntactic
change, including grammaticalization and idiomization, considerations of the
effects of register (Juvonen), social factors (Straaijer), dialectal differences (Laing),
and language contact (Ohkado) are well represented. English Historical Linguistics
2008 will clearly be of interest to a wide readership.


Brinton, Laurel J. & Elizabeth C. Traugott. 2005. Lexicalization and Language
Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Brunner, Karl. 1951. Die englische Sprache: ihre geschichtliche Entwicklung,
Vol.2. Halle: Niemeyer.

Gries, Stefan Th. & Anatol Stefanowitsch. 2004. ''Extending Collostructional
Analysis: A Corpus-based Perspective on 'Alternations'.'' International Journal of
Corpus Linguistics 9: 1.97--129.

Haegeman, Liliane. 1994. Introduction to Government & Binding Theory. 2nd Ed.
Oxford: Blackwell.

Himmelmann, Nikolaus P. 2004. ''Lexicalization and Grammaticalization: Opposite
or Ornthogonal?'' What Makes Grammaticalization? ed. by Walter Bisang, Nikolaus
P. Himmelmann & Björn Wiemer, 21-42. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Huddleston, Rodney & Geoffrey K. Pullum. 2002. The Cambridge Grammar of the
English Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Krug, Manfred G. 2000. Emerging English Modals: A Corpus-based Study of
Grammaticalization. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Laing, Margaret & Roger Lass. 2008. A Linguistic Atlas of Early Middle English
1150-1325 [] Edinburgh: The
University of Edinburgh.

Leech, Geoffrey. 2003. ''Modality on the Move: The English Modal Auxiliaries
1961-1992.'' Modality in Contemporary English, ed. by Roberta Facchinetti,
Manfred Krug & Frank Palmer, 223-240. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Mair, Christian. 2002. ''Three Changing Patterns of Verb Complementation in Late
Modern English: A Real-Time Study Based on Matching Text Corpora.'' English
Language and Linguistics 6, 105-131.

Mitchell, Bruce. 1985. Old English Syntax. Volume 1: Concord, the Parts of
Speech, and the Sentence. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ross, John R. 1973. ''Nouniness''. Three Dimensions of Linguistic Theory, ed. by
Osamu Fujimura, 137-258. Tokyo: TEC.

Rydén, Mats & Sverker Brorström. 1987. The BE/HAVE Variation with
Intransitives in English: with Special Reference to the Late Modern Period.
Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell.

Trips, Carola. 2002. From OV to VO in Early Middle English. Amsterdam &
Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Visser, Fredericus Theodorus. 1963. An Historical Syntax of the English
Language. 1, Syntactical Units with One Verb. Leiden: Brill.

Vosberg, Uwe. 2003. ''The Role of Extractions and Horror Aequi in the Evolution of
-ing Complements in Modern English.'' Determinants of Grammatical Variation in
English, ed. by Günter Rohdenburg & Britta Mondorf, 305-327. Berlin & New York:
Mouton de Gruyter.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Penelope J. Thompson is a PhD Student (English Language) at the University of Edinburgh. Her doctoral research (sponsored by the Arts and Humanities Research Council) focuses on the morphophonology of Old English, in particular in West Saxon and in the Lindisfarne Gospels. Her research interests include Old English morphophonology, Old English dialectology, the interaction between phonology and morphology, and phonological theory, in particular Stratal Optimality Theory. She also currently serves on the executive committee of the Linguistics Association of Great Britain.