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Grammaticalization Paths of English and High German Existential Constructions

A Corpus-based Study


Simone E. Pfenninger

Existential constructions are a fundamental feature of many Indo-European languages, and constructions with non-referential subjects have developed in all of the latter, albeit at different stages in their histories.
High German does not feature a prototypical existential construction that is equivalent in syntactic and pragmatic function and semantic meaning to the English existential there-construction. How did a prototypical existential structure originate in English? Why is it that High German has never developed such a construction? Has it ever shown a tendency towards developing one? How did two closely related languages such as English and High German come to differ so much with respect to these constructions?
By means of investigating a variety of historical and contemporary data this study shows that not only semantic, pragmatic and syntactic factors are involved, which decide the choice of a certain construction, but also very much the more general different linguistic development that the two languages underwent in the course of time.
Contents: The Beginnings. Towards a Historical Explanation of the Difference between English and High German Existential Constructions: Word Order in the History of English - The Derivation of the English ETC - Word Order in the History of High German - The Derivation of the High German Existential da-Construction - The Derivation of High German ‘es’-Constructions – ETCs in Modern English: Syntactic Classification - Semantic Classification - Pragmatic Approach – The Modern High German Counterparts: The Status of es in ModHG - Syntactic Approach to the High German Counterparts - Semantic and Pragmatic Approaches to the ModHG Counterparts.