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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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9.Discussion and conclusions

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9. Discussion and conclusions

This chapter offers a discussion of the main findings and conclusions to be drawn from the research. The study examined the development of the impersonal verbs lust (Chapter 6), thirst (Chapter 7) and long (Chapter 8), taken as case studies of the impersonal verbs of Desire which have developed personal prepositional uses (i.e. Levin’s subclass of long verbs). The overall aim has been to identify how these verbs evolved during the two centuries after they started to appear in personal use; that is, from 1500 to 1700.

To this purpose, a total of 918 examples have been retrieved from EEBOCorp 1.0 (1500–1700) for qualitative and quantitative analysis. For the sake of comparison, Tab. 25 below displays the range of syntactic patterns attested in the corpus with each individual verb.

It can be observed that there exists variation across the three verbs. The only verb which displays impersonal uses in EModE is lust, whereas thirst and long are never found in this pattern. With regard to personal patterns, the variants attested with all verbs are prepositional, clausal and zero complements, whereas NP complements are attested with lust and thirst only, and adverbial complements only with long. In the MED, however, adverbial complements are documented with lust as well (see Chapter 6, Section 6.2.1). In what follows, I will revisit the most important findings drawn for each individual verb. I also provide answers to the objectives posited...

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