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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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8 Long


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This chapter explores the historical development of the verb long 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 analysis of lust and thirst, Section 8.1 offers an overview of the origin and development of the verb based on the dictionary entries of the OED and the MED, as well as previous work. Section 8.2 summarises the complementation patterns historically documented with this verb, also based on the dictionary entries and previous studies, and considering both impersonal and personal uses. Then, an account of the personal complementation patterns attested in EModE is provided in Section 8.3, followed in Section 8.4 by a summary of the main conclusions extracted from my analysis.

8.1Origin and development

EModE long, from OE langian (> ME lō̆ngen), is a native formation, derived by conversion from the adjective long (see OED s.v. long, v.1 Origin). According to the OED, it is first attested in early OE, as shown in (186) below.

(186)Hu lustbærlice tida on ðæm dagum wæron…

how pleasant times on those-DAT days-DAT were

þæt us nu æfter swelcum longian mæge swelce þa wæron that us-ACC/DAT now after such-DAT long may as then were

‘What pleasant times were in those days… that we may now long for such [times] as then...

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