Academic journal article Trames

The Development of the Mandative Subjunctive in the Early Modern English Period

Academic journal article Trames

The Development of the Mandative Subjunctive in the Early Modern English Period

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

In the last hundred years, the subjunctive, especially the mandative subjunctive, has been a highly debated topic among linguists. Kellner suggested at the beginning of the 20th century that the English language would "get rid of it altogether" (Kellner 1905:235) and Visser wrote in his Historical English Syntax in the late Sixties that the mandative subjunctive "tends to become archaic or obsolete in late Modern English" (Visser 1969:825). On the other hand, several recent studies have proved the revival of the mandative subjunctive in English (cf. Hundt 1998: 171, Overgaard 1995:89). Differences in the use of the mandative subjunctive in the variants of the English language in present-day English have been the subject in several studies as well--for example, Stig Johansson and Else Helene Norheim found in their examination of the American Brown Corpus and the British LOB Corpus, that in American English, the most preferred realization possibility in subordinate that-clauses is the subjunctive, while in British English, the most favoured alternative is the modal construction with should (cf. Johansson and Norheim 1988:27, 34).

All recent studies on the topic of the mandative subjunctive in present-day English have been computer-based studies of different corpora which provide statistically more reliable evidence than the older method of counting the examples per hand by allowing the search in larger data bases. So it would be interesting to perform an electronic search in historical corpora (e.g. the diachronic part of the Helsinki Corpus of English Texts) to prove the known statements about the use of the mandative subjunctive in earlier periods of the English language, namely that it decreased from Old English on and that the subjunctives were supplanted by other alternatives, especially by modal constructions (cf. Denison 1993:330, Stein 1990: 233). As far as it is known to the author of this paper, it has been done until now only by Lilo Moessner who investigated the use of the mandative subjunctive in Middle English on the basis of the Middle English part of the Helsinki Corpus (Moessner 2005 forthcoming). She found that in the first half of the Middle English period, the mandative subjunctive was the most favoured realization possibility, but from the second half of the 14th century on, its frequency decreased, while at the same time, the frequency of the modal constructions increased. At the end of Middle English, the modal construction was the most preferred alternative, while the subjunctives had fallen to the second position. Moessner also investigated the influence of several linguistic and extralinguistic factors on the use of the mandative subjunctive in Middle English (cf. Moessner 2005 forthcoming).

The aim of this paper is to fill the above named gap examining the use of the mandative subjunctive in the Early Modern English period, i.e. from about 1500 to 1700. The investigation is carried out for two variants of the English language--the southern variant Early Modern English and the northern variant Older Scots. The periods of Early Modern English and Older Scots do not cover the same time span--the Early Modern English period lasted from about 1500 to 1700 (cf. Denison 1993:8), while Older Scots is periodized as lasting from the fourteenth to the end of the seventeenth century (cf. Corbett, McClure, and Stuart-Smith 2003:4ff.). Since the time period 1500 to 1700 is the subject of this investigation, the term Older Scots will be used only with reference to the sixteenth and the seventeenth century in this paper.

The Helsinki Corpus which the research in this paper is based upon, provides a good basis for a diachronic research and comparison of Early Modern English and Older Scots in the Early Modern English period. The Early Modern English part of the Helsinki Coprus is divided into Pres three subperiods-- E1: 1500-1570, E2: 1570-1640 and E3: 1640-1710 (cf. …

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