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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 6: ME binēthe(n) (preposition/adverb)


6.1. Etymology of binēthe(n)

The MED traces back the adverb binēthe(n) to OE bineoþan, -niþan. The preposition binēthe(n) is claimed to be derived from the adverb, which, even though in general concordance with the grammaticalisation theory (Hopper and Traugott 2003), is ambiguous if not erroneous. Since the MED does not specify whether the Middle English or the Old English adverb is the source of the preposition, one can assume that the Middle English adverb is such a source and that the preposition binēthe(n) is a Middle English innovation. But that preposition is attested as early as Old English (cf. DOE beneoþan).

The OED provides a common etymology, i.e., OE bi-niðan, be-neoðan, for the adverb, preposition and adjective. But the statement: “[o]riginally an adverb, but already in Old English construed with dative (of reference), as a preposition”, hints at the grammaticalisation path. Be-niðan/neoðan is further structurally analysable as consisting of the prefix be- and niðan, neoðan ‘below, down’, originally ‘from below,’ earlier neoðane, neoðone; cf. OS nithana, OHG nidana, MHG niden(e) < Gmc niþar ‘lower, farther down, down’ plus the adverbial ending -ana. Moreover, the addition of the prefix be- specifying the location blocked the meaning referring to the direction of movement, which niðan, neoðan could originally express (see also the section below).

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