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Academic Paper

Title: Standard Average European and the Celticity of English Intensifiers and Reflexives: Some considerations and implications
Author: Erich Poppe
Institution: Philipps-Universität Marburg
Linguistic Field: Historical Linguistics
Subject Language: English
Subject LANGUAGE Family: Insular Celtic
Abstract: My contribution explores the potential of Standard Average European (SAE) as a methodological yardstick for the assessment of the Celticity of Standard English (SE), i.e. the degree to which SE may have been influenced by Insular Celtic languages. SAE allows a quantification of the extent to which SE differs from other SAE languages and at the same time shows similarities with Insular Celtic languages which are generally thought to deviate from SAE. The concept of SAE will be introduced and a complex test case will be analyzed: the rise of identical reflexives and intensifiers and the frequency of ‘labile’ verbs, e.g. to break both intransitive and transitive, in English. Reflexives and intensifiers are identical in Insular Celtic, but separate categories in SAE. According to Haspelmath (1993), labile verbs are unusually frequent in English by SAE standards, and they are also very frequent in Insular Celtic. It will be shown that the frequency of labile verbs in SE and Insular Celtic results from the identity of reflexives and intensifiers in these languages. Since the frequency of labile verbs thus can be shown to be a typologically secondary phenomenon, it is the rise of the new system of identical reflexives and intensifiers in SE which is methodologically the relevant linguistic subsystem within the complex test case for which Insular Celtic influence can be proposed and which can be adduced as an argument in favor of the Celtic hypothesis. For the assessment of the Celtic hypothesis, it will therefore be rewarding to complement the initial comparison of SE and Insular Celtic with further data from SAE and general typology whenever the linguistic subsystems under scrutiny allows the inclusion of such data.


This article appears IN English Language and Linguistics Vol. 13, Issue 2.

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