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Constructions and EnvironmentsCopular, Passive, and Related Constructions in Old and Middle English$
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Peter Petré

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199373390

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199373390.001.0001

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The Past Tense

The Past Tense

(p.97) Chapter 4 The Past Tense
Constructions and Environments

Peter Petré

Oxford University Press

Chapter 4 relates the mysterious loss of the high-frequency verb weorðan ‘become’ (and the prevalence of its competitor wesan ‘be’) to changes at the level of narrative construal. Old English grammar favored bounded construal, expressing events as complete changes chronologically coming one after the other. This was mainly realized by inverted word order and serial time adverbs (notably þa ‘then’). Owing to its change-of-state semantics, weorðan was strongly associated with these features. When between 1100 and 1400 narrative structure changed significantly, þa and inversion disappeared, and weorðan was dragged along with them. The chapter also discusses the role of the grammaticalization of the passive construction in the competition between wesan and weorðan, and the limitations of an explanation in terms of competition.

Keywords:   Syntax, competition, Old English, Middle English, copula, passive construction, historical linguistics, weorðan, be, construction grammar

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