Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Composite Predicates and Idiomatisation in Middle English: A Corpus-Based Approach (1)

Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Composite Predicates and Idiomatisation in Middle English: A Corpus-Based Approach (1)

Article excerpt

0. Introduction

The idiomatic nature of Composite Predicates (2) in Present Day English has often been acknowledged (see, for instance, Algeo 1995: 205). It has been argued that in earlier stages of the language Composite Predicates were more variable than they are today (Brinton - Akimoto 1999: 16-17), as can be observed in the studies on this topic in Middle English (Matsumoto 1999: 92; Tanabe 1999: 123).

The present paper aims to study the degree of fixation of Composite Predicate structures with the verb to make used in Middle English, on the basis of the evidence provided by the Middle English section of the Helsinki Corpus of English Texts: Diachronic and Dialectal (henceforth, Helsinki Corpus).

1. Corpus of the present study and analysis of the data

The Helsinki Corpus (3) contains some 600,000 words of Middle English prose and verse, which we have analysed with the aid of the concordance programme WordSmith Tools. 473 tokens of Composite Predicates with the verb to make, corresponding to a total of 203 different types, found in the Middle English section of the Helsinki Corpus.

Composite Predicates consist of a verb and a noun phrase object. We will be analysing the existence of collocational restrictions in the behaviour of these structures, focusing on the determiners that the deverbal noun admits, on the morphology of the head noun, especially its number, on its modification and also on the voice of the Composite Predicate structure. It will be on the basis of this analysis that we will try to shed light upon the degree of fixation of Composite Predicate strings in the Middle English period.

1.1. Determination

Regarding determination, we are well aware of what Mustanoja (1960: 231) referred to as "... the unsettled state of the use of the articles in Middle English". Despite the idiosyncratic character of determiners in Middle English, we attempt to identify' the existence or inexistence of selectional restrictions in the distribution of Composite Predicates throughout the period.

The following possibilities regarding nominal determination have been considered:

1. Definite article the.

2. Indefinite article a.

3. Possessive adjectives.

4. Demonstrative determiners.

5. Negative determiner.

6. Quantifiers.

7. The zero article.

8. Other.

The global distribution of determiners in our corpus in Table 1 below, shows that the zero article is the most common determiner, distantly followed by the indefinite article, quantifiers and the definite article.

Let us see if the chronological division of the data above reveals any trend in any direction.

The data contained in Table 2 below reveal that Composite Predicates most frequently consist of a noun phrase preceded by the zero article, thus agreeing with Christophersen (1939: 79), Mustanoja (1960: 272) or Moss6 (1952: 97). Even though, chronologically, there is a subtle decrease in the use of the covert determiner, it continues to be widely used all throughout Middle English, and it is the most common determiner in all subperiods.

The decrease in the use of the zero article in the later half of the Middle English period may be related to the fact that it is in this period that the bulk of texts of a more formal nature, such as documents, non private correspondence and official and legal texts, is represented in the corpus. As shall be later seen, Composite Predicates that do not favour the presence of the covert determiner mainly occur in these types of texts. Moreover, it is in the late Middle English period that the spread in the use of participial adjectives of the type the said took place, mainly in official letters and documents, as Kilpio (1997) has shown. 10 out of the 12 instances of participial adjectives used for anaphoric reference in our data belong to the very end of the Middle English period, and 8 of them take the definite article the, while the remainder take two determiners. …

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