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Argument Structure in Flux

The Development of Impersonal Constructions in Middle and Early Modern English, with Special Reference to Verbs of Desire


Noelia Castro-Chao

The class of verbs of Desire comprises verbs whose syntax and semantics have undergone important changes in the course of their histories. Their argument structure involves a Desirer and a Desired, and in earlier English they could be used impersonally in constructions lacking a subject marked for the nominative case. The book presents three case studies based on a comprehensive survey of the entries in the Oxford English Dictionary and the Middle English Dictionary and on corpus data retrieved from EEBOCorp 1.0 (1470s–1690s). The results obtained unveil the loss of impersonal uses and their gradual replacement by personal patterns, in particular a pattern where the verb governs a prepositional complement representing the Desired as a metaphorical goal.

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3 The nature of verb meaning and constructional meaning


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3The nature of verb meaning and constructional meaning

3.1Verb meaning

The semantic analysis of verbs of Desire proposed in this investigation is inspired by Möhlig-Falke’s (2012: 79 ff) cognitive-functional analysis of OE impersonal verbs, which combines, among others, the models of Fillmore (1982, 1986), Langacker (1987), Dowty (1991) and Croft (1991, 2012). Goldberg’s (1995, 2006) model of Construction Grammar further allows us to account for the variant argument realisations in which individual verbs are found.

In order to arrive at a precise characterisation of verbs of Desire, aspects related to the nature of verb meaning along with the semantic nature of verbal arguments are addressed in this section. In turn, aspects related to constructional meaning are addressed in Section 3.2, with a focus on the relationship between verb meaning and the syntactic constructions in which verbs may occur.

The issue of verb meaning involves the study of the nature of the events or states of affairs denoted by verbs. The term State of Affairs (SoA; Dik 1997: 51; Van Valin & LaPolla 1997: 83; Möhlig-Falke 2012: 56), briefly introduced in Chapter 2, refers to a verb as “something that can be said to occur, take place, or obtain in some world; it can be located in time and space; it can be said to take a certain time (have a certain duration); and it can be seen, heard, or otherwise perceived” (Dik 1997: 51).

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