LINGUIST List 25.2293

Sat May 24 2014

Review: Germanic; Historical Linguistics; Sociolinguistics; Typology: Diewald, Kahlas-Tarkka & Wischer (2013)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <>

Date: 10-Mar-2014
From: Bev Thurber <>
Subject: Comparative Studies in Early Germanic Languages
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Gabriele Diewald
EDITOR: Leena Kahlas-Tarkka
EDITOR: Ilse Wischer
TITLE: Comparative Studies in Early Germanic Languages
SUBTITLE: With a focus on verbal categories
SERIES TITLE: Studies in Language Companion Series 138
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2013

REVIEWER: Bev Thurber, Shimer College


This book contains an introduction by the editors plus twelve papers presented at the 16th International Conference on English Historical Linguistics in Pécs, Hungary in August 2010 during a session called “Contrastive study of the verbal categories and their grammaticalisation in Old English and Old High German.” While the papers focus on one or both of these two languages, later stages of English and German are also discussed, as are other Germanic languages, including Gothic. The contents of the book are as follows:

The introduction to the book, written by Gabriele Diewald, Leena Kahlas-Tarkka, and Ilse Wischer, sets the papers in context, both linguistically and methodologically. They begin by describing the general development of verbal categories from Proto-Indo-European to Germanic, and then mention grammaticalization studies as “the red thread that unites all investigations” in the volume (p. 4). Next, the historical corpora used in subsequent papers are summarized. The introduction ends by classifying the papers by which verbal categories they address and summarizing each one briefly.

The papers are arranged so that ones examining similar verbal categories are clustered together, and papers that connect or lie on the border of two verbal categories are between papers focusing on each of those two categories. The first four papers involve the passive voice and issues related to it.

“*HAITAN in Gothic and Old English,” by Robert A. Cloutier, compares the use of *HAITAN in five kinds of constructions in Gothic, Early Old English, and Late Old English corpora. The author identifies a few innovations in the use of `hātan' in Old English and verbs that competed with `haitan' in Gothic. The Greek originals of the Gothic texts help Cloutier identify competing verbs by finding Greek verbs that are translated as `haitan' as well as other Gothic verbs. The most common use of the verb in all three corpora is found to be in transitive naming constructions, and those that generally use passive voice.

In “Incipient Grammaticalisation: Sources of passive constructions in Old High German and Old English,” Robert Mailhammer and Elena Smirnova examine the development of the passive in English and German by looking at constructions in which ‘be’ and ‘become’ are used with past participles in Old English and Old High German. They show that these constructions need not have been interpreted as passives in the earliest stages of these languages. They also argue that transitivity is important in whether to read such constructions as passives, and that the two verbs are used as aspect operators in these situations.

“Passive auxiliaries in English and German: Decline versus grammaticalisation of bounded language use,” by Peter Petré, follows up on the last one by examining the differences between passive constructions in Old English, early Middle English, and two Old High German texts. The author shows that both English and German originally used both ‘be’ and ‘become’ to build passives. He attributes the divergent development in the two languages to the way the two languages’ systems of boundedness evolved. German evolved a bounded system and therefore chose `werden' (to become) while English’s unbounded system uses `to be.'

“Causative `habban' in Old English: Tracing the Development of a Budding Construction,” by Matti Kilpiö, describes the origin of the causative use of `have,' as in the example `I had my shoes repaired,' using data from the Dictionary of Old English Corpus. The author goes through all 20 instances (19 unique; one is repeated in two manuscripts) of causative `habban' in the corpus and classifies them according to chronology, dialect, syntactic properties, and semantic properties before analyzing all of them as causatives. The paper concludes with an explanation of how this construction could have arisen as a process internal to Old English.

Kilpiö’s paper forms a bridge to the next set of papers by linking passive voice and modality. The next set of papers is loosely about modality, including links between modality, evidentiality, and futurity, as well as futurity itself.

“Remembering `(ge)munan': The rise and decline of a potential modal,” by Matthias Eitelmann, examines the history of the Old English verb `(ge)munan' (to think about or remember) as a preterite-present verb and as a modal verb. Eitelmann begins by analyzing the meaning of `(ge)munan,' which he finds denotes a different sort of remembering than is used today. In the following discussion of the word’s history, Old Norse influences are shown to have contributed to an increase in the verb’s use. The author also uses dictionaries to compare Modern English renditions of `(ge)munan' and examines occurrences of the verb’s descendant in English through the 19th century. All of this data is used to explain the evolution and eventual decline of `(ge)munan' in English.

“The emergence of modal meanings from `haben' with `zu'-infinitives,” by Anne Jäger, examines the writings of Notker to determine how `haben' + 'zu'-infinitive developed as a modal construction. Jäger describes four different uses of this construction, which correspond with stages of grammaticalization. The first three are attested in Notker’s work, a result which Jäger uses to push the timeline of grammaticalization back from Middle High German to late Old High German. A comparison of Notker’s translations with the Latin originals allows Jäger to argue that this construction is not simply a word-for-word translation from Latin.

In “`Hearsay' and lexical evidentials in Old Germanic languages, with focus on Old English,” Olga Timofeeva collects examples of statements involving `(ge)hieran' plus an infinitive of utterance (i.e., with or without an intervening noun in the accusative case) in Old English and equivalent examples in Old Norse, Old Saxon, Old High German, and Gothic in order to study how these languages handle direct auditory perception and hearsay evidence. Timofeeva shows that the `(ge)hieran' + ACI (`accusativus cum infinitivo') is used to describe direct auditory perception, while `(ge)hieran' + infinitive is generally used for hearsay evidence. The similarity between all of these languages suggests that this pattern has its origin in Proto-Germanic.

The next two papers fit loosely into the modality category by addressing aspects of futurity. “Markers of Futurity in Old High German and Old English: A Comparative Corpus-Based Study,” by Gabriele Diewald and Ilse Wischer, uses Old High German and Old English corpora to compare the emergence of the future markers `werden' (to become) in German and `shall/will' in English. The corpora were made up of selected texts: seven German texts from between 790 and 1155 and eight English texts from between 880 and 1120. The semantic aspects of the two different types of construction are discussed. Diewald and Wischer identify factors internal to both languages that led them onto different paths in developing this construction.

The next paper, “The Verb `to be' in the “West Saxon Gospels” and the “Lindisfarne Gospels,”” by Christine Bolze, compares the use of present indicative and subjunctive forms of Old English `bēon' in gospels from two different dialects. The emphasis is on when forms derived from the Indo-European root `*bheu-' are used rather than forms from the other roots that contribute to the paradigm of `to be' in Old English. The results confirm that present indicative `b'-forms are generally used to indicate futurity. In the subjunctive, this remains true for West Saxon, but Northumbrian’s lack of `b'-forms in the subjunctive results in frequent double glosses combining a subjunctive `s'-form with an indicative `b'-form.

The last few papers do not have an overarching theme, but they connect to the preceding papers and to each other in different ways. The first of these, “Aspectual properties of the verbal prefix `a'- in Old English with reference to Gothic,” by Vlatko Broz, examines the meaning of this verbal prefix by looking at its etymology and comparing its use in Old English to the use of cognate prefixes in Gothic. Some comparisons to Modern English and Croatian are also made. Croatian is used as an example of a language with prefixes that work similarly to Old English `a'-. Broz concludes that the prefix was originally used to mark aspect and was gradually grammaticalized into nothing.

“`Ϸǣr wæs' vs. `ϸâr was': Old English and Old High German existential constructions with adverbs of place,” by Simone E. Pfenninger, examines the development of these similar constructions in Old English and Old High German by analyzing their occurrences in selected texts in both languages. As the two languages developed, syntactic differences in the constructions arose. This resulted in the different existential constructions present in the modern version of the languages. This paper continues the theme of similar constructions in the older languages that evolved in different ways that can be seen in several of the other papers in this volume.

The final paper, “On gain and loss of verbal categories in language contact: Old English vs. Old High German,” by Theo Vennemann, is comprised of three parts. First, the author compares the verbal systems of Proto-Indo-European, Proto-Germanic, and Phoenician, and argues that a Phoenician language substrate was instrumental in selecting which Indo-European verbal categories were retained in Germanic. In the brief second section, he summarizes innovations common to Old English and Old High German. The third and longest section summarizes a variety of Old English innovations that can be attributed to Celtic and/or Semitic influence. Most of this section is spent discussing the dual copula paradigm in the West Germanic languages.

The book concludes with an index.


This volume is a coherent collection of detailed studies relating to verbal categories in Germanic. A broad range of verbal categories is addressed, but the most common one is the passive voice, addressed by the first four papers in the collection. This is followed by modality and the future tense (two papers each). Evidentiality, aspect, and existential constructions are each the main focus of one of the papers. The collection concludes with Vennemann’s paper on verbal categories in general. The broader focus of this final paper makes it a fitting conclusion to the collection.

Of the Germanic languages, the main focus is on Old English, which all the papers except for Jäger’s address. A strong secondary focus is on Old High German, addressed by Jäger’s paper and five others. Gothic comes in third, with three papers addressing it in comparison to Old English. There are also references to later stages of English and German, other Germanic languages, and Croatian (in Broz’s paper). Several of the papers address the divergent development of English and German. The papers by Mailhammer and Smirnova, Petré, Diewald and Wischer, Pfenninger, and Vennemann show how selected verbal forms that differ in Modern English and German descended from a common ancestor. The emphasis on Old English and Old High German links this variety of papers into a coherent volume.

Within the scope of verbal categories, the volume is tied together by the theoretical idea of grammaticalization and the practical use of historical corpora. All of the papers address grammaticalization in some way, and the use of corpora is prominent in many of the papers. The volume looks to the future by stressing that there is a great deal to be done in writing the details of how the Germanic languages developed grammatically. The authors of the papers in this volume frequently include suggestions for future research in the form of follow-up studies.

The editors describe this volume as containing three different types of combinations: i. combinations of data,in the form of comparing different languages; ii.combined theoretical approaches to account for the complexity of language change; and iii. combined methods, including those from both social and natural sciences. The editors’ overview is an accurate description of how the papers fit together. They address a variety of verbal categories using different approaches. Each one is a self-contained study of a very specific phenomenon that fills a gap in the scholarship. As such, they will primarily be of interest to those specialists who are particularly interested in Germanic verbal categories.


B. A. Thurber is an Assistant Professor of Humanities and Natural Sciences at Shimer College in Chicago. She is interested in historical linguistics.

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