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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 three: *-nugan and *dugan


3.1 Preliminary remarks

The chapter focuses on two verbs, *-nugan and *dugan, which are claimed to have been the first preterite-presents to disappear from Standard English. Both are very rarely addressed in linguistic literature presumably because of their low frequency and early loss. Since they do not seem to have much in common, the verbs are described separately. The analysis begins with *-nugan, which was eliminated first.

In order to reveal factors that might have had the impact on their loss, the chapter contains a detailed account of the distribution of each verb in Old and Middle English. In the second part of the chapter, on *dugan, the prominence is given to syntactic factors because the contexts in which the verb appears are considerably different from those of other preterite-presents and, as such, worthy of attention.

3.2 *-nugan: an introduction

The verb *-nugan is undoubtedly the most neglected of all preterite-presents. Historical grammars often either omit this item altogether or devote very little space to its description. Thus, the available information is typically limited to the listing of the most important forms, any other issues being scarcely ever mentioned.

Only one of the sources consulted suggests the reason for the loss of *-nugan from English. Nagle — Sanders (1998: 258) suppose that the “expanded predecessors of ‘It is enough’ helped to eliminate lexically related genugan/benugan”. The date of the disappearance of the verb is typically set for the Early...

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