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Middle English Prepositions and Adverbs with the Prefix «be-» in Prose Texts

A Study in Their Semantics, Dialectology and Frequency


Ewa Ciszek-Kiliszewska

This book offers the first comprehensive study of Middle English prepositions and adverbs combining the prefix «be-» with a preposition, an adverb or a numeral recorded in prose texts. Six best established lexemes, i.e., «before, beyond, behind, beneath, between» and «betwixt» are analysed. The investigated aspects include the semantics of the prepositions and adverbs, their dialectal and textual distribution as well as their frequency of use viewed both from a synchronic and diachronic perspective. The study draws on the linguistic data retrieved from a collection of specially selected complete prose texts from the «Innsbruck Corpus of Middle English Prose». The description of the obtained results is enhanced with numerous tables and figures.

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Chapter 3: ME bifōre(n) (preposition/adverb/conjunction)


3.1. Etymology of bifōre(n)

According to the MED, the Middle English preposition and adverb bifōre(n) go back to OE beforan. The conjunction bifōre(n) is believed to have been derived from the adverb or the preposition. The earliest recorded instance of the conjunction accompanied by þat (see also Section 3.2.4.) comes from c. 1200 (Ormulum).

The third edition of the OED, which places the preposition, adverb and conjunction in one entry, provides a more detailed etymology of bifōre(n). The word is of Germanic origin. It is structurally analysable as composed of the prefix be- ‘by, about’, like all the lexemes examined in the present study, and the adverb foran = OS foran(a) and OHG forna > MHG vorn(e), “(PGmc. *forana), ultimately derived through grammaticalization from the dative form foran of the noun fora meaning ‘front’; thus original foran meant ‘in front as to a thing’” (Molencki 2007: 38; cf. also the OED).

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