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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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7 Thirst


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This chapter explores the historical development of the verb thirst in the EModE period, a member of the class of verbs of Desire as defined in Levin (1993: 194–195; see Chapter 4). Following the procedure for the study of lust, Section 7.1 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 7.2 outlines the complementation patterns historically documented with this verb, also based on the dictionary entries and previous studies, and including both personal and impersonal uses. Subsequently, an account of the complementation patterns attested in EModE is provided in Section 7.3, followed in Section 7.4 by a summary of the main conclusions extracted from my analysis.

7.1Origin and development

In this section, I explore the origin and development of thirst, from OE þyrstan (> ME thirsten), and provide a discussion of the event structure associated with each of the different senses of thirst, in order to arrive at a fine-grained differentiation of their nature.

The OED first attests thirst in c893, shown in (132), and two different senses have been identified for this verb in the OED and the MED entries, namely (i) ‘To feel or suffer thirst’ and (ii) ‘To desire, to have a desire’.

(132)Þu þe þyrstende wære monnes blodes. thou-NOM that thirsting were man-GEN blood-GEN

‘you who...

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