Verbs of Speaking and the Linguistic Expression of Communication in the History of English

by Christoph Anton Xaver Hauf (Author)
©2021 Thesis 324 Pages
Series: MUSE: Munich Studies in English, Volume 47


English verbs of speaking have been affected by profound and intriguing changes, in particular between Old and Middle English. These changes crucially involve the loss of the verb cweþan and its replacement by say, which remains the most common verb of speaking to this day. The present study provides an exhaustive corpus-based, cross-period, and multi-dimensional appraisal of verbs of speaking used as part of the linguistic expression of communication in the history of English situated within a frame-semantic and constructionist framework. Moreover, it elucidates the fascinating changes affecting the verbs used to talk about communication between Old and Middle English. Also, this study sheds light on the functions of medially placed reporting clauses emerging in the Middle English period.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of Abbreviations
  • 1 General Introduction
  • 1.1 Verbs and the Expression of communication
  • 1.2 Aims of This Study
  • 1.3 Structure of This Study
  • 2 Theoretical Framework
  • 2.1 Elements of a communication Frame
  • 2.2 Mapping Semantics to Syntax
  • 2.2.1 The Syntactic Realizations of the Semantic Roles in the Linguistic Expression of communication
  • 2.2.2 Representing communication in Language: Definitions
  • The Reported Words
  • The Reporting Clause
  • 2.2.3 message/topic Realizations
  • Phrases as message/topic
  • Clauses as message/topic
  • Quotations as message/topic
  • 2.2.4 addressee Realizations
  • The Syntactic Status of addressee Realizations
  • Nominal-Prepositional addressee Contrasts
  • 2.3 Construction Grammar and the Linguistic Expression of communication
  • 2.3.1 Argument-Structure Constructions
  • 2.3.2 The Communication Construction
  • The Composition of the Communication Construction
  • The Realization of Argument Roles
  • The Relationship between Verbs and the Construction
  • 2.3.3 The Direct-Speech Construction
  • The Composition of the Direct-Speech Construction
  • Verbs in the Direct-Speech Construction: R-Relations
  • The Conceptualization of Verb Meaning
  • A Constructionist View on ‘Verbs of Speaking’
  • 3 cweþan, say, speak, talk, and tell in Old and Middle English
  • 3.1 Verb Characterization and Selection
  • 3.1.1 Verb Characterization: Etymology, Cognates, and Forms
  • cweþan
  • say
  • speak
  • talk
  • tell
  • 3.1.2 Selection of cweþan, say, speak, talk, and tell
  • 3.2 Previous Studies
  • 3.3 Aims
  • 3.4 Material
  • 3.4.1 The Historical Textual Record of English
  • Old English
  • Middle English
  • 3.4.2 The Helsinki Corpus of English Texts
  • Chronological Grouping of Text Samples
  • Sample Selection and Representativeness
  • 3.5 Method
  • 3.5.1 Token Retrieval
  • 3.5.2 Post-Processing
  • 3.5.3 Linguistic Analysis
  • 3.6 Results
  • 3.6.1 Frequencies
  • Overall Frequencies
  • Verb Frequencies in Individual Texts
  • Verbs of Speaking in Prose and Verse
  • cweþan in Later Middle English
  • 3.6.2 Complementation
  • cweþan
  • say
  • speak and talk
  • tell
  • 3.6.3 Attested Verb Forms
  • 3.7 Conclusion
  • 4 The Direct-Speech Construction in Old and Middle English
  • 4.1 Previous Studies
  • 4.2 Aims
  • 4.3 Material and Method
  • 4.3.1 Material, Token Retrieval, and Post-Processing
  • 4.3.2 Semantic Classification of Verbs
  • Verb Meaning in Dictionary Definitions
  • Ambiguous Cases: OE clipian, ME wepen, and ME sorwen
  • Verb-Complement Combinations
  • 4.3.3 Usage-Pattern Analysis and Etymological Analysis
  • 4.4 Results
  • 4.4.1 Verb Inventories
  • Old English
  • Middle English
  • 4.4.2 Usage Patterns of cweþan and say in Old and Middle English
  • 4.4.3 The Verb Slot of the Direct-Speech Construction from a Diachronic Perspective
  • 4.4.4 Etymological Composition of the Verb Inventories
  • Old English Inventories
  • Middle English Inventories
  • 4.5 Conclusion
  • 5 The Structure and Functions of Medial Reporting Clauses in the Direct-Speech Construction in Middle English
  • 5.1 Background
  • 5.2 Previous Studies
  • 5.2.1 Structure and Syntactic Status of Medial Reporting Clauses
  • 5.2.2 Functions of Medial Reporting Clauses
  • Quoting, Evidentiality, Speaker Stance, and Epistemicity
  • Discourse and Information Structure
  • 5.3 Aims
  • 5.4 Material and Method
  • 5.4.1 Structural Analysis
  • 5.4.2 Functional Analysis
  • 5.5 Results
  • 5.5.1 Structural Properties of Medially Placed Reporting Clauses
  • Verb Lexemes and Grammatical Forms
  • Syntactic Complexity
  • Word Order
  • 5.5.2 Functions of Medial Reporting Clauses in Chaucer’s Boece
  • Quotative-Evidential and Epistemic-Attitudinal Functions
  • Position-Sensitive Discourse- and Information-Structural Functions
  • 5.6 Conclusion
  • 6 General Conclusion
  • References
  • Appendix
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables
  • Word Index
  • Subject and Name Index
  • Series index

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This book is a revised version of my dissertation project completed at LMU Munich (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München) in the fall of 2019. Many people have contributed a great deal to the success of the project. First, I would like to thank my supervisor Ursula Lenker for being a constant source of motivation and criticism and for guiding me through the entire process, from the inception of the project to the final paragraphs of the written version. Many thanks are also due to my second supervisor Gaby Waxenberger for her valuable feedback on various steps in the development of this study and for her continuous and kind support.

I would also like to thank my dear friends and co-workers Constanze Späth, Christine Elsweiler, and Elisabeth Huber, for their patient words of encouragement and for their priceless copy-editing skills. My most heartfelt gratitude goes out to my dear friend, co-worker, and PhD sister Carolin Harthan for being the best office buddy anyone could ask for, for her sensible yet straightforward words of advice and support, and for being there whenever I needed it, pinot grigio included.

Many thanks go out to Alessia Bauer, David Denison, Teresa Fanego, Judith Huber, Robert Mailhammer, and Hans-Jörg Schmid for their insightful remarks and helpful suggestions concerning various parts of the study. I would also like to thank my fellow PhD students and members of the Class of Language of the Graduate School Language & Literature Munich for their constructive criticism and comments on my project. I also thank Janina Kraus, Martin Eberl, and Florian Winter for their assistance and their patience in helping me get the hang of making plots in R, David Elsweiler for helping me deal with syntactically parsed corpus files, and Lisa Eitinger, Raphaela Kaiser, and Johanna Klein for their meticulous proofreading skills.

Lastly, I would like to thank my parents Anna and Josef, my grandmother Elisabeth, my roommates Angelika, Michael, and Philipp, and my friends for their unconditional love and support and for providing just the right amount of distraction to keep me focused.

Munich and Kinding, spring of 2021

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1 General Introduction

1.1 Verbs and the Expression of communication

Modern readers of virtually any Old English text are bound to come across a linguistic item which may seem striking from a Present-Day English perspective: Old English authors make very frequent use of the verb cweþan, which means ‘to speak, say; etc.’ (DOE s.v.), to talk about communication, as in (1) taken from Appolonius of Tyre:

(1) ða cwæð se cyningc: Fleon he mæg, ac he ætfleon ne mæg. (HC, O3, COAPOLLO, P 10, R 7.22)

‘Then the king said, “He may flee, but he cannot escape.”’

cweþan forms part of the Old English vocabulary inherited from Germanic and has cognates in all older Germanic languages, for example, quedan in Old High German or kveða in Old Norse (DOE s.v. cweþan ; OED s.vv. †queath, v. and quoth , v.; see also Section of this study). Moreover, it is attested about 5,900 times per one million words in the Dictionary of Old English Corpus (DOEC). My own calculations based on the Old and Middle English parts of the Helsinki Corpus of English Texts (HC) presented in Chapter 3 of this study provide roughly similar figures: cweþan is found 2,155 times in the Old English Helsinki data; this figure corresponds to a relative frequency of 5,215 instances per one million words. The verb can thus be characterized as a highly frequent verb of speaking belonging to the core vocabulary of Old English .1

Moreover, cweþan is attested with a variety of complementation patterns in Old English , for example, in monotransitive use with phrasal complements as in (2a), with complement clauses as in (2b), or with quotations as in (2c):

(2)  a. þa heo þa ðis cwæð, þa geswigade heo. (Bede 4 12.290.16; DOE s.v. cweþan A. 6. b.)

‘When she had said this, then she was silent.’

b. þa cwæð se halga wer þæt he to his huse gan nolde. (ÆLS (Martin) 515; DOE s.v. cweþan A. 18. a.)

‘Then the holy man said that he did not want to go to his house.’

c. ða cwæð se cyngc: þe misþingð. (ApT 14.29; DOE s.v. cweþan A. 10. a.)

‘Then the king said, “You have the wrong idea.”’

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When used ditransitively, cweþan exhibits a clear preference for additional prepositional complements in Old English , as exemplified in (3a–c):

(3)  a. þas worda cwæð weroda drihten, ælmihtig Godd, to Ysaie. (Instr 193; DOE s.v. cweþan A. 8. a.)

‘The Lord of hosts, God almighty, said these words to Isaiah.’

b. ða cwæð he to his geferan þæt hit betere wære þæt hig þa mæssan hæfdon. (Leof 66; DOE s.v. cweþan A. 20.)

‘Then he said to his companions that it were better that they held mass.’

c. ða cwæð drihten to Caine: hwæt dydest ðu? (Gen 4.10; DOE s.v. cweþan A. 12. a.)

‘Then the Lord said to Caine, “What have you done?”’

After the Old English period, cweþan is found less and less frequently in English texts, following a clear pathway of quantitative decline over the course of the Middle English period. By the end of the sixteenth century, most forms of cweþan are obsolete; as a result, the only remaining form of the verb is fossilized and rare quoth , that is, its original form for the first and third person singular past indicative. This form is characteristically restricted to a specific cotext, that is, to reporting clauses used in combination with direct quotations (OED s.vv. †queath, v., quoth , v., and say, v.1 and int.), as illustrated in the famous passage taken from Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, which many present-day uses of the verb allude to (OED s.v. †quoth , v. II. 4. and 5.):

(4) “Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,

Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore:


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (August)
construction grammar corpus linguistics historical linguistics Old English Middle English frame semantics
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 324 pp., 52 fig. b/w, 36 tables.

Biographical notes

Christoph Anton Xaver Hauf (Author)

Christoph Anton Xaver Hauf completed his doctoral studies in English Linguistics and Medieval English Literature at LMU Munich. He has been working as a research assistant at the Chair of English Linguistics and Medieval Literature at LMU Munich.


Title: Verbs of Speaking and the Linguistic Expression of Communication in the History of English
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