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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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6 Lust


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This chapter explores the historical development of the verb lust in the EModE period, a member of the class of verbs of Desire as defined in Levin (1993: 194–195; see Chapter 4). Section 6.1 offers an overview of the origin and development of the verb based on the dictionary entries of the OED and the MED, and on the previous literature. Section 6.2 summarises the complementation patterns historically documented with this verb, also based on the dictionary entries and previous studies, considering both impersonal and personal uses. Subsequently, an account of the impersonal and personal complementation patterns attested in EModE is provided in Section 6.3, followed in Section 6.4 by a summary of the main conclusions extracted from my study.

6.1Origin and development

In this section, I look at the origin and development of lust, from ME lusten. The MED first attests lust in c1175, although the original text dates presumably from the OE period, as shown in example (79) below. In the OED, however, the first documentation is dated as late as the 13th century (see also Miura 2015: 62, 183).36

(79)Swa he mare lufe hæfð to … Gode swa him lust swiðor þe lufe. so he more love has to God so him-obj pleases more the love

‘The more love he has towards … God, the more he desires the love.’

[MED, c1175 (?OE) Bod.Hom.(Bod 343) 118/8;...

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