Studies in the Evolution of the English Language

by Robert Kiełtyka (Volume editor)
©2021 Edited Collection 248 Pages


The present volume is a monographic study devoted to selected aspects of English historical phonology, orthography, syntax, morphology and semantics. It is the result of international cooperation of scholars affiliated with various academic institutions around the world, such as the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, USA; the University of Edinburgh, UK; the University of Westminster, UK; the University of Tours, France, the University of Amsterdam, Netherlands; the Boris Grinchenko University in Kiev, Ukraine; the South-West University “Neofit Rilski”, Bulgaria; the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Poland; the University of Silesia, Poland; the Silesian University of Technology, Poland.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editor
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Contributors
  • Introduction (Robert Kiełtyka)
  • Part I: Phonology, orthography
  • On misinterpreting written materials as evidence for Old English “sound change in progress”1 (Fran Colman)
  • Selected spontaneous phonological processes in the prehistory and history of English: an element-based approach (Krzysztof Jaskuła)
  • A historical phonology of the consonant-vowel interactions: The case of the English lateral (Artur Kijak)
  • A quantitative analysis of internal spelling variation in George Joye’s 1534 translation of the Psalter (Jerzy Wójcik)
  • Part II: Syntax
  • Elimination of grammatical redundancy in the history of English: The case of negative constructions (Isabella Buniyatova)
  • Information packaging effects in Old English scrambled double object constructions (Yana Chankova)
  • The development of prepositional absent in Contemporary American English: A corpus-based constructional approach (Sylvain Gatelais and Fabienne Toupin)
  • The partitive genitive with fela and feawe in Old English and Middle English (John G. Newman)
  • Part III: Morphology and semantics
  • The rise of non-morphemic word-formation (Camiel Hamans)
  • Borrowing and polysemy: An investigation of French loans in Middle English (Richard Ingham)
  • Scientific word-formation in eighteenth-century English (Grzegorz Wlaźlak)
  • Series index


Isabella Buniyatova

Boris Grinchenko University in Kiev, Ukraine


Yana Chankova

South-West University “Neofit Rilski,” Bulgaria


Fran Colman

Independent scholar, Greece (formerly University of Edinburgh, UK)


Sylvain Gatelais

University of Tours, France


Camiel Hamans

University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands


Richard Ingham

University of Westminster, UK


Krzysztof Jaskuła

John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Poland


Artur Kijak

University of Silesia, Poland


Robert Kiełtyka

University of Rzeszów, Poland


←7 | 8→John G. Newman

University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, USA


Fabienne Toupin

University of Tours, France


Grzegorz Wlaźlak

Silesian University of Technology, Poland


Jerzy Wójcik

John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Poland


Robert Kiełtyka


This volume is a result of cooperation of scholars affiliated with a number of universities in the world: USA (John G. Newman, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley), UK (Richard Ingham, University of Westminster), Greece (Fran Colman, independent scholar, formerly University of Edinburgh); France (Fabienne Toupin, Sylvain Gatelais, University of Tours), the Netherlands (Camiel Hamans, University of Amsterdam), Ukraine (Isabella Buniyatova, Boris Grinchenko University in Kiev), Bulgaria (Yana Chankova, South-West University “Neofit Rilski”) and Poland (Krzysztof Jaskuła, Jerzy Wójcik, John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin; Artur Kijak, University of Silesia, Grzegorz Wlaźlak, Silesian University of Technology). The fruit of this collaboration is a monographic study devoted to selected aspects of English historical phonology, orthography, syntax, morphology and semantics.

The volume consists of eleven chapters, the first of which is a contribution by Fran Colman titled “On misinterpreting written materials as evidence for Old English ‘sound change in progress.’” The author argues convincingly that interpretation of Old English written materials is an attempt to reconstruct “a relationship between an alphabetic writing system and a language system.” The said relationship is not only culturally-bound but it heavily draws on the objectives of a particular type of text. Unfortunately writing cannot faithfully reflect speech (Coulmas 2003: 16). From this it follows that Luick’s (1921: §27) “man schrieb wie man sprach” is impossible in principle. It appears that spelling variations which abound in a number of Old English texts have often been misinterpreted as evidence corroborating to “sound change in progress.” Fran Colman scrutinizes and reconsiders such types of texts as charters, charter boundary clauses, glosses, and glossaries.

The chapter written by Krzysztof Jaskuła under the title “Selected spontaneous phonological processes in the prehistory and history of English – an element-based approach” is a study in which the author analyzes some well-known and investigated sound changes taking place “in the prehistory and history of the English language” from the new methodological perspective, that of Element Theory (e.g. Harris 1990, 1994; Backley 2011). One of the undeniable advantages of Element Theory is that it is a fully-fledged independent model which may successfully be employed in any phonological investigations. As a result, such well-known historical processes as Grimm’s Law, Great Vowel Shift as well as vowel ←9 | 10→changes between Old English and Middle English may be interpreted anew in the light of a new methodological apparatus.

Artur Kijak’s contribution titled “A historical phonology of the consonant-vowel interactions: The case of the English lateral” represents the same methodological approach, that of Element Theory. The author of the chapter aims to examine “the phonological interactions between the lateral and the preceding vowels in the history of English” as well as “the internal structure of the segments involved in such interactions.” Specifically, a successful attempt is made to shed light on the vocalization of the lateral and a number of vocalic developments motivated by this vocalization including diphthongization, vowel raising and lengthening. One of the merits of the chapter is that its author pursues the problem of an inconsistent behaviour of the lateral and explains why it has survived only in certain clusters. Moreover, the relationship between the context and the process of the lateral vocalization is also given due attention.

The last chapter in the first part of the volume titled “A quantitative analysis of internal spelling variation in George Joye’s 1534 translation of the Psalter” is a contribution by Jerzy Wójcik. The author investigates internal spelling variation of a 1534 English translation of the Psalter which displays a considerable amount of spelling variation typical of the early Modern English period. The assumption pursued in the chapter is, as argued by Shute (2017), that the observation of internal spelling differences between parts of the text enables one to draw certain conclusions concerning the number of compositors who prepared the text for printing. The statistical analysis of spelling variation offered in the text employs the so-called software R.

The part of the volume devoted to the syntactic evolution of English is introduced by Isabella Buniyatova’s contribution titled “Elimination of grammatical redundancy in the history of English: The case of negative constructions.” The chapter delves into the problem of multiple sentence negation involving negative concord (NC) in the history of the English language. Special attention is given to the elimination of redundant Neg-elements, including cliticized adverbs, pronouns, and adjectives. The author postulated that changes taking place in the English negation system represent the case of grammaticalization (see Fisher and Rosenbach 2000, Frisch 1997, Harris and Campbell 1995, Traugott 1995, 1996) studied on the basis of the data taken from literary sources. The historical evolution of the phenomenon in question is investigated through reference to three periods in the history of the English language, specifically Old English, Middle English and Early Modern English.

Yana Chankova’s contribution is titled “Information packaging effects in Old English scrambled double object constructions.” In the intention of the author, ←10 | 11→the chapter has its focus on non-canonical modified orders in constructions involving trivalent verbs of the give-class, derived by indirect object Scrambling, direct object Scrambling and double object Scrambling. The data subject to analysis have been excerpted from The York-Toronto-Helsinki Parsed Corpus of OE Prose (2003) and The Helsinki Corpus TEI XML Edition (2011). The author offers an integrated Minimalist syntactic analysis of Scrambling (hereby described as an optional displacement operation raising internal Arguments and Adjuncts into targets in the left periphery of vP) that invokes semantic, information-structural and prosodic factors in an attempt to find out how these interact with the general linearization principles when non-canonical derived orders are generated.

Sylvain Gatelais and Fabienne Toupin are authors of the chapter titled “The development of prepositional absent in Contemporary American English: a corpus-based constructional approach.” The contributors focus on the use of absent which is labelled “preposition” in dictionaries of English (see Slotkin 1985). If absent really functions as a preposition in present-day English, that is if it results from a shift of an adjective into a preposition, it might be an instantiation of a grammaticalization process (see Hopper and Traugott 2003), whereby a lexical category becomes a grammatical one. The authors argue, however, that the change is not merely the grammaticalization of an individual item, but rather the emergence of a new construction, a mechanism known as constructionalization (see Traugott & Trousdale 2013).

The chapter written by John G. Newman “The partitive genitive with fela and feawe in Old English and Middle English” is a successful attempt at conducting a detailed analysis of the partitive genitive with fela ‘many’ and feawe ‘few’ in Old and Middle English. The author validates relevant claims like those of Hooper (1976), Bybee (1988, 2007), Phillips (2006), and Newman (2012) by specifying whether “analogical modeling based on comparative token frequency may have allowed for resistance to the loss of the morphological partitive genitive initially, but facilitated that loss later.” One of the merits of the contribution is the suggestion that lower frequency nouns occurring with fela and feawe affected higher frequency nouns occurring with those words but lacking distinctly genitive plural marking. The ultimate result of this process was the disappearance of partitive genitive morphology.

The part of the volume devoted to morphology and syntax is opened up by the contribution titled “The rise of non-morphemic word-formation” written by Camiel Hamans. As its title suggests, this chapter deals with non-morphemic morphological changes, which unlike morphemic alterations, are not the result of structural causes within the language system, but result from reinterpretations ←11 | 12→by speakers. The phenomena discussed in this text include libfixing (a concept introduced by Zwicky 2010), clipping and blending (recently discussed in detail by, for example, Lappe 2007, Hamans 2012, Bauer, Lieber and Plag 2013, Balteiro and Bauer 2019, Mattiello 2019). The author convincingly shows that these processes of word-formation are systematic and are all motivated by the same cognitive approach whereby the speaker recognizes corresponding parts and accordingly analyzes opaque structures. Suffice it to say that some traditional processes of morphological change, such as the loss of inflection, noun incorporation in verbs and the emergence of new suffixes, are also briefly discussed.

In his contribution, “Borrowing and polysemy: an investigation of French loans in Middle English,” Richard Ingham focuses on the relationship between lexical borrowing and lexical polysemy in the Middle English period. The targeted period witnessed extensive borrowing from Old French. The author makes an attempt to measure “the extent to which loanwords were taken over into English in a single sense, as is typically the case with modern technological and cultural borrowing, or whether polysemous source-language lexemes were borrowed into English as polysemous in the same senses.” One of the most important findings of the research is the conclusion that the vast majority of OF lexemes instantiated as polysemous in OF/A-N and borrowed into English showed borrowed polysemy. The means by which more than a single sense of loanwords entered English is seen by the author as arising from bilingual activation.

The last chapter in the volume, “Scientific word-formation in eighteenth-century English” was written by Grzegorz Wlaźlak. This contribution examines the structure of complex lexemes coined in the eighteenth century which represented English scientific vocabulary. Specifically, the author pays attention to formations which contain Latinate affixes or neoclassical elements. The data subject to analysis are excerpted from a corpus which features scientific texts published in the first and second half of the eighteenth century, as well as dictionaries and encyclopedias compiled during that period. The analysis of texts targeted in the chapter corroborates a trend towards scientific language dynamism in word-formation, strengthened by a continuous tendency towards internationalization (see Görlach 2001 and Wlaźlak 2020).

As editor of the volume, I nurture the hope that this monographic study will be of interest to scholars pursuing the intricacies of historical English phonology, orthography, syntax, morphology and semantics. I believe that the prospective readers will enjoy and may possibly be inspired by the fruit of the academic research carried out by the contributors to this volume.←12 | 13→

Last but not least, I wish to express my gratitude to Professor Paweł Grata, Vice-Rector of College of Humanities at the University of Rzeszów, for his benevolence and significant financial support.


Backley, Phillip. 2011. An Introduction to Element Theory. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Balteiro, Isabel and Laurie Bauer. 2019. “Introduction.” Lexis 14. Available at: https://journals.openedition.org/lexis/1249.

Bauer, Laurie, Rochelle Lieber and Ingo Plag. 2013. The Oxford Reference Guide to English Morphology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bybee, Joan L. 1988. “Morphology as lexical organization.” In Theoretical Morphology, edited by M. Hammond and M. Noonan. San Diego: Academic Press, 119–41.

Bybee, Joan L. 2007. Frequency of Use and the Organization of Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Coulmas, Florian. 2003. Writing Systems: An Introduction to their Linguistic Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fisher, Olga and Anette Rosenbach. 2000. “Introduction.” In Pathways of Change. Grammaticalization in English, edited by Olga Fisher, Anette Rosenbach and Dieter Stein. Amsterdam, Philadelphia: John Benjamins Press, 1–37.

Frisch, Stefan. 1997. “The change in negation in Middle English: A NEGP licensing account.” Lingua 101: 21–64.

Görlach, Manfred. 2001. Eighteenth-Century English. Heilderberg: Universitätsverlag C. Winter.

Hamans, Camiel. 2012. “From prof to provo: Some observations on Dutch clippings.” In Phonological Explorations. Empirical, Theoretical and Diachronic Issues, edited by Bert Botma and Roland Noske. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, 25–40.

Harris, John. 1990. “Segmental complexity and phonological government.” Phonology 7: 255–300.

Harris, John. 1994. English Sound Structure. Oxford: Blackwell.

Harris, Alice C. and Lyle Campbell. 1995. Historical Syntax in Cross-Linguistic Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hooper, Joan Bybee. 1976. “Word frequency in lexical diffusion and the source of morphophonological change.” In Current Progress in Historical Linguistics, edited by W. Christie. Amsterdam: North Holland, 96–105.←13 | 14→


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (October)
Phonology Orthography Syntax Morphology Semantics
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 248 pp., 3 fig. b/w, 13 tables.

Biographical notes

Robert Kiełtyka (Volume editor)

Robert Kiełtyka is Professor at the University of Rzeszów, Poland, and head of the Department of Historical and Contemporary English and Contrastive Linguistics. His main areas of research includes historical linguistics (diachronic semantics), cognitive linguistics (especially metaphor-metonymy interface) and word-formation.


Title: Studies in the Evolution of the English Language
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