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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

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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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4 The class of verbs of Desire

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4The class of verbs of Desire

As pointed out in Chapter 1, the aim of the present investigation is to offer an analysis of the development of verbs of Desire during the EModE period (1500–1700). This chapter, therefore, gives an overview of this class of verbs, prior to the corpus-based treatment of the three selected verbs of Desire presented in Chapters 6 (lust), 7 (thirst) and 8 (long).

The label verbs of Desire is adopted from Levin’s monograph (1993: 194–195) on English lexical organisation and diathesis alternations in PDE. She identifies the class of verbs of Desire as a semantically coherent class which, in PDE, exhibits a specific syntactic behaviour, on the assumption that “the behaviour of a verb, particularly with respect to the expression and interpretation of its arguments, is to a large extent determined by its meaning” (1993: 1). The class of verbs of Desire consists of the twenty verbs listed below, which are further subdivided into want verbs, if they are transitive (e.g. PDE, Dorothy needs new shoes), and long verbs, if intransitive taking a prepositional complement (e.g. PDE, Dana longs for a sunny day; see Section 1.1). The prepositions in parenthesis relate to prepositional use in PDE.

(a)Want verbs: covet, crave, desire, fancy, need, want.

(b)Long verbs: ache (for), crave (for), dangle (after), fall (for), hanker (after/for), hunger (for), hope (for), itch (for), long (for), lust (after/for), pine (for), pray...

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