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The Non-Surviving Preterite-Present Verbs in English

The Demise of *dugan, munan, *-nugan, *þurfan, and unnan


Anna Wojtyś

Based on four historical corpora, the book is a comprehensive study of the demise of five preterite-present verbs in English. It offers a detailed description of their distribution in Old and Middle English. The subsequent comparison of the forms and uses of the preterite-presents in the two periods allows the author to suggest the reasons for their elimination from the language. The discussion focuses on phonological and morphological changes the verbs underwent as well as on the syntactic structures they appeared in. Yet, the study does not ignore factors of extra-linguistic nature such as genres in which the verbs were frequently found and the potential rivalry with other items of native and foreign origin.

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Chapter two: Preterite-presents in Indo-European and Germanic


2.1 Introduction

Preterite-present verbs are extant in all Germanic languages. With time, some of them were eliminated but those that survived typically enjoy high frequency or became modal verbs. The sections that follow contain a brief overview of the fates of preterite-present verbs in Germanic languages, with special attention paid to those verbs that have been lost.

2.2 Proto-Germanic

Since in Germanic languages “[t]he number of such verbs is larger… than in any other IE language family”, Hogg — Fulk (2011: 299) draw the conclusion that “several of the relevant verbs must have been added to the class in PGmc”. According to Ringe (2006: 153–155), 15 such verbs are reconstructible for Proto-Germanic. Those are (in alphabetical order):

Note that for two verbs, *lais and *mōt, Ringe does not provide pre-PGmc forms since, he claims, they are of obscure etymology. Guchman et al. (1966: 416) ← 29 | 30 → suppose that the latter might have been connected with the IE root *med- ‘measure’, while Voyles (1992: 264) assumes that it derives from IE *mṑda ‘must’. Another verb, *ar, is absent from all languages, its sole relict reflected only in Old English in the forms earð (Mercian)/arð (Northumbrian) (Ringe 2006: 261). And since in Old English the verb is not preterite-present, it is disregarded in the study. As the list shows, several verbs have changed their meaning, typically becoming more stative.

Some historical sources postulate that Proto-Germanic contained...

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