Matti Rissanen, Marianna Hintikka, Leena Kahlas-Tarkka, Rod McConchie (Eds.). 2007. Change in Meaning and the Meaning of Change: Studies in Semantics and Grammar from Old to Present-Day English

By Molencki, Rafal | Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies, July 2011 | Go to article overview

Matti Rissanen, Marianna Hintikka, Leena Kahlas-Tarkka, Rod McConchie (Eds.). 2007. Change in Meaning and the Meaning of Change: Studies in Semantics and Grammar from Old to Present-Day English


Molencki, Rafal, Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies


Matti Rissanen, Marianna Hintikka, Leena Kahlas-Tarkka, Rod McConchie (eds.). 2007. Change in meaning and the meaning of change: Studies in semantics and grammar from Old to Present-Day English. Memoires de la Societe Neophilologique de Helsinki LXXII. Helsinki: Societe Neophilologique. Pp. xvii, 377.

The team of linguists affiliated with the English Department of the University of Helsinki have had a long tradition of diachronic corpus studies of English ever since they started compiling searchable text corpora in the early 1990s. A few years later they were organized into a special Research Unit for Variation, Contacts and Change in English (VARIENG), continuing their efforts in creating new corpora of dialectal and specialist texts. Owing to their pioneering work the community of English historical linguists all over the world had access to searchable, albeit limited, diachronic corpora long before the Toronto complete Dictionary of Old English Corpus and the University of Michigan Middle English Compendium became available. The Helsinki corpora also became the basis for the collection of tagged texts which are most useful for the exploration of English historical syntax: the York-Toronto-Helsinki Parsed Corpus of Old English, the Penn-Helsinki Parsed Corpus of Middle English and the Parsed Corpus of Early English Correspondence. Although much larger and more representative diachronic corpora of English texts are now accessible, the Helsinki corpora are still very valuable, providing basis for pilot studies which can be further extended with reference to the huge text databases now available.

The volume under review is a good example of successful work that makes use of the Helsinki diachronic corpora database. The book is divided into two major parts. In the first one (Meaning and mind) we find six articles devoted to the semantic developments of content words discussed within the cognitive models of grammar, while the remaining six (Meaning and grammar) deal with various grammatical items analyzed from the point of view of the grammaticalization theory.

The volume starts with an interesting paper of Agnes Kiricsi discussing the gradual shift of the metaphoric location of the mind from the heart in Old English to the head in later periods. The author very convincingly shows that the change is connected with the specialization of the word mod 'mood' accompanied by the generalization of gemynd 'mind'. The main reason, Kiricsi claims, was the culturally determined shift of the concept of mind from emotional to mental, at least partially influenced by the Latin tradition. What the author does not mention, however, are possible formal requirements of medieval English poetry such as the number of syllables and alliteration which may have been partially responsible for the statistical occurrence of the discussed items. She could have included a few more illustrating examples, also from the Anglo-Saxon prose. In the Middle English texts she should have taken into account the Scandinavian and the Anglo-Norman influences.

Paivi Koivisto-Alanko uses the blending theory with reference to changing metaphoric senses of the word wit from Late Middle English to Present-Day English. The application of this semantic conceptual integration framework to the diachronic language material proves rewarding, yet we believe that apart from the corpus material, the author should have referred to the dictionary material, e.g. the Oxford English Dictionary and--especially--the Middle English Dictionary, where the respective entries for the noun w/t might have provided the starting point for the author's analysis.

A similar remark can be applied to Helli Tessari's article about I fear/I am afraid, where the author should have consulted the Middle English Dictionary, which lists some slightly earlier occurrences of epistemic uses of I am afraid than those listed in the OED. Otherwise, the article is a very sound and meticulous analysis of the development of epistemic senses of these verbs, which strongly confirms the direction of change in the theory subjectification. …

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