The Analysis of the Semantics of Middle English Mowen in the Light of Its Rise to Epistemicity and Eventuality

By Kwirynowicz, Agnieszka | Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies, Annual 2005 | Go to article overview

The Analysis of the Semantics of Middle English Mowen in the Light of Its Rise to Epistemicity and Eventuality


Kwirynowicz, Agnieszka, Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies


ABSTRACT

The present paper offers a historical analysis of the semantic development of the ME verb mowen with particular attention paid to the emergence of its epistemic use. The contexts for the analysis of the ME verb mowen were taken from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

Contrary to prevalent assumptions which view the inception of epistemicity in the light of the metaphorical process itself, the present study aims to show that by relying solely on the metaphor itself, the process of the emergence of epistemicity would be distorted. Instead, the paper offers the approach of a gradual shift, by means of defocusing of a source of enablement, via metonymy and metaphor in the light of the grammaticalization process. Hence, the aim is to view metaphorical and metonymic transfers as complementary as both are activated but at different stages of the development of the verb mowen.

Moreover, the paper attempts to analyse the variety of concepts evolving on the path to epistemicity, thus intrinsic and contingent abilities followed by root and epistemic possibilities. Last but not least, the study shows that the approach of a gradual shift accounts also for the rise of eventuality underlying the future sense of ME mowen and of PDE may.

1. Introduction

The present paper offers a historical analysis of the semantic development of the ME verb mowen < OE magan with particular attention paid to the emergence of its epistemic use. It should be emphasised that a relatively high number of articles have been devoted to the mechanism of the inception of epistimicity in the pre-modals via metaphor.

The present paper, by drawing on theories represented by Gamon (1997), Hopper and Traugott (1993), and Sweetser (1990) illustrates the analysis of the semantics of ME mowen in the light of its rise to epistemicity and eventuality. Hence, the aims of the present paper are the following:

First of all, the study will attempt to prove that the epistemic, thus propositional (Palmer 1989: 7) function of the verb mowen arises out of a diachronically basic root function, thus the event one (Palmer 1989:16), yet via the intermediate stages of the root possibility by way of defocusing of a source of enablement (Gamon 1997: 127).

It should be emphasised that the present theories on the development of ME mowen either exclude the role of metaphor in the process of the emergence of epistemicity in ME mowen (Gamon 1993), or claim that the metaphorical transfer is the only means to epistemicity (Sweetser 1990). The present study will modify these approaches by claiming that the process of metaphor was one of the transfers on the way to epistemicity in ME mowen. In other words, the paper will argue that the role of metaphor should neither be denied nor conceived as the only means to epistemicity but rather as complementary with metonymy. Thus, the present study will prove that by applying a mechanism of a gradual three-fold shift within the root meaning, thus from inherent to the contingent ability, and then from the root possibility to the epistemic one, via metonymic and metaphorical transfers, a linguist obtains a cognitively more plausible path than when applying the only process of metaphor.

According to Gamon (1993: 127), the process of metaphor fails to account for the category of the root possibility. In other words, the mechanism of metaphor illustrates only the first stage of the path, namely the root intrinsic ability, and the last one, thus the epistemic possibility completely disregarding the intermediate stage--the root possibility. Hence, relying on the metaphor itself, as the only means from the root to the epistemic sense, the process of the emergence of epistemicity would be incomplete, if not distorted.

Moreover, the present analysis will illustrate that it is both metonymic and metaphorical transfers that are activated at different stages to the emergence of the subjectivity and the subsequent grammaticalisation process. …

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