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The development of the absolute construction in English: the interaction between internal and external factors of change.

This PhD aims to provide a comprehensive, corpus-based study of the development of the absolute construction (AC) in English, from its earliest attested instances in Old English up to the present. Present-day English (PDE) examples are '"That's better," he said, his spirits raising a little.' and 'With the teacher refusing to comply, Barry took the matter to the dean'. The specific objectives/research questions guiding this study can be formulated as follows. First, the project wishes to provide a full descriptive account of the AC's development; this descriptive component shows that the AC is characterized by fluctuating frequency, changing semantics and register distribution, growing structural flexibility and increasing productivity. These changes are best viewed as multi-causal developments which are the result of language external and language internal factors combined. Second, specific attention is devoted to three more general issues. The first is the AC's much debated origin, which is here claimed to be a case of selective frequential copying from Latin. The second is the question why English is the only Present-day Germanic language to make extensive use of the AC. The explanation is argued to lie in i. the special functional niche occupied by certain PDE ACs, ii. the fact that more possibilities for structural priming and form/function overlap are available to PDE ACs, iii. the fact that English has become more unbounded over time and iv. the fact that English prescriptivism has encouraged rather than discouraged the use of ACs. The third and final general issue concerns the development of augmentation, with specific attention being devoted to the role of the verbal gerund. It is thereby argued that the development of with-absolutes is a clear instance of grammatical constructionalization characterized by increasing schematicity, new constructional types and some loss of compositionality. Methodologically, the project makes use of extensive corpus research and statistics in order to report reliable results.

Date:1 Oct 2010 →  30 Sep 2016
Keywords:Augmentation, Language contact, Absolute construction, Grammaticalization, Grammatical constructionalization, Ease of processing, Analogy, Genre diffusion
Disciplines:Linguistics, Language studies, Literary studies, Theory and methodology of linguistics, Other languages and literary studies
Project type:PhD project