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Ingressive biginnen in Middle English the development of a textual function

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  1. Ingressive biginnenin Middle Englishthe development of a textual function Peter Petré 2 June 2012 ICAME 33 ∙ Leuven


  3. Topic ∙ Narrative construal • Broad shift in the way narratives are structured in English • Related to language-thought debate (Carroll et al. 2004) • Multi-dimensional experience <> two-dimensional language • Language users are not free in their coding choices • Grammars differ in the ease with which such choices are made • Old English grammar strongly favours bounded construal • Present-Day English grammar mixes bounded and unboundedconstrual • What has changed? When? How can we tell?

  4. Bounded construal • Old English grammar strongly favours bounded construal • Encodes experience as a discrete chronology of events • each event is encoded as completed/reaching its terminal point • each event is marked off from other events • Like a protagonist experiencing events one after another • Typically has • adverbials meaning ‘then’ at the head of a clause • inversion of the subject (1) After the battle looked they for Henry’s killer. Then found they him, and forced him to surrender.

  5. Unbounded construal • Present-Day English grammar has incorporated unboundedconstrual as part of its grammar • Encodes events as open-ended to emphasize overlap • Like a camera overlooking the scene • Events are hooked up to asingle time frame • Typically has • Progressives • ??? (2) Water was dripping down. The man started to dig around … the sand is caving in.

  6. Experiment English speakers German speakers (Carroll, Natale & Starren 2008; Flecken 2010)

  7. Current view on timing • Unbounded construal was established 1500-1710 when progressive [be Ving] became a basic part of English grammar (Kemenade et al. 2008) • Strictly bounded construal breaks down in early Middle English (e.g. Kemenade & Westergaard 2008) • What happened in between? • Assumption: lack of early attestation of progressive due to poor documentation of real-time narration • The conclusions drawn on timing are premature if solely based on evidence from the progressive


  9. The role of ingressive verbs • Unbounded construal makes more use of ingressives (Carroll et al. 2004: 206) • This holds in particular for past time retellings • Relating everything to an on-going now is not possible • Use of ingressives may be a conciliatory strategy • Encoding of onset provides a temporal anchor (bounded) • Open-endedness of new situation may emphasize overlap with events expressed in subsequent clauses (unbounded)

  10. English ingressive auxiliaries • Most frequent Early English ingressive auxiliaries share the root gin: Onginnan, aginnen, ginnen, biginnen (3) He wente that his lemman had layne in that bed, and so he leydehymadowne by sir Launcelot and toke hym in his armys and begantokyssehym. And when sir Launcelotfelte a rough berdekyssynghym he sterteoute of the beddelyghtly, and the othirknyght after hym. (1485(a1470). MaloryWks.: 185.2618) (4) Ryghtanon the wympelgan she fynde. ‘Right away she found (*began to find) the wimple.’ (c1386)

  11. Los (2000) and Brinton (1988) • Gin-verbs could express various aspectual values • Old English (c1000) (Los 2000) • [gin Inf] expresses completion of an event (no overlap) • [gin toInf] is ingressive (potential interruption/overlap) • Distinction depends on infinitive • Middle English (c1400) (Brinton 1988, 1996) • Biginnenis mostly used ingressively • Ginnen marks (perfectively) salient events in the narrative • Distinction depends on gin-verb

  12. Evaluation • Valuable observations, not mutually exclusive (5)Þereue… bigontorowenswiftlicheefter. … & arisen stormes se sterke & se stronge. þttebordes of þis bat bursten & tobreken. & te sea sencte him. ‘The prefect … began to row after (her body) … and storms arose so strong that the planks of this boat burst, and the sea drowned him.’ (c1225(?c1200). St.Juliana(Bod 34): 126) (6)Ryghtanon the wympelgan she fynde. ‘Right away she found (*began to find) the wimple.’ (c1386) • Focus on perfectivity at the expense of ingressive uses • Ingressive use mainly expressed by biginnen

  13. Hypothesis • If unbounded language use already develops in Middle English, it is expected that there is an increase of ingressive auxiliaries encoding overlap between events • Shift from clausal > textual = intersubjectification


  15. Corpus • LEON 0.3 corpus (Petré 2011) • Newly developed all-genre corpus covering OE-1640 • More representative in terms of genre & dialect • 400,000 words per period • For this case study: biginnen in • 1151-1250 • 1421-1500 • 1571-1640

  16. Case study ∙ biginnen • Given its later development the most relevant verb • Analysis of all instances that occur in past time narrative • Past tense: the majority • Historical present: from late Middle English onwards (7) Sodainelyfrom the pearchsnatcht the hawke, and hauing wrung off her neck, begins to besiedge that good morsell, but with so good a courage, that the feathers had almost choakt him. (1608) • Miscellaneous forms (8) My Lords, I was beginning to speak, but you interrupted me. (1590)


  18. Ingressivity of biginnen • Already in Middle English biginnen • Is systematically ingressive • Prefers segmentable infinitives (onset – nucleus – coda) • Biginnen’singressive aspect is used in two ways • Clausal level • Emphasizes duration (not open-endedness) • No overlap • Textual level • Situation is on-going when next event occurs/interrupts • With overlap

  19. Biginnen without overlap • Part of a bounded (set of) clause(s) • Expresses a foregrounded event • Involves the protagonist(s) • Advances the storyline • No overlap with subsequent events (9)He bigon to deluen; dicswiðemuchele. Þer-uppestenenewal; þewes strong ouer-al. aneburh he arerde; muchele & mare. ‘He began/undertook to dig a very great ditch. Above it a stone wall, that was strong everywhere, and a castle he raised, great and high.’ (a1275(c1205). Lay. Brut (Clg A.9): 7100)

  20. Co-ordination • Co-ordination with perfective clause • Typical of early Middle English (10) He bigonto hewenehardlicheswiðe. and þapostes for-heoualle; þaheolden up þahalle. ‘He began to hew very hard and hew down all the pilars that supported the hall.’ (a1275(c1205). Lay. Brut (Clg A.9))

  21. Biginnen with overlap • Typically belong to secondary foreground • Only some characteristics of foreground • Protagonist OR • Advancing of storyline • Overlapwith subsequent events (11)Þer was a presteþattrowid he was a passandgudesynger, not-with-stondyng he was not so. So on a day þer was a gentyl-wommanþatsattbehyndhym & hard hymsyng, & shobegan to wepe; and he, trowyngþatshowepid for swettnes of his voyse, began to synglowderþan he did tofor; & ay þehyersho hard hymsyng, þe faster wepudsho.(c1450. Alph.Tales: CXX)

  22. Overlap vs. no overlap pmw


  24. Conclusions • First results are promising • Increase in overlap points to increase of unbounded construal • General shift from aspectual function at clausal l • Caveats • More data are needed to determine significance • Best genre to examine shift is oral narration (story-telling) • Early Middle English I still close to oral narration (Arnovick 2006) • How to find similar material for later periods?

  25. The bigger picture • Breakdown of bounded system • Loss of þa ‘then’ (as grammatical foreground/topic time marker) • Loss of verb-second • Loss of less well-known constructions (e.g. then it happened that …) • Grammaticalization of unbounded construal • Changes in the progressive already in Middle English

  26. References Arnovick, L. 2006. Written Reliquaries: The resonance of orality in medieval English texts. Benjamins. Brinton, L. 1988. The development of English aspectual systems. Cambridge UP. Brinton, L. 1996. Pragmatic markers in English: Grammaticalization and discourse functions. Mouton. Carroll, M. et al. 2004. The language and thought debate. In T. Pechmann & C. Habel (eds.), Multidisciplinary approaches to language production, 183-218. Mouton. Carroll, M., S. Natale & M. Starren. 2008. Acquisition du marquage du progressif par des apprenants germanophones de l'italien et néerlandophones du francais. AILE (Acquisition et interaction en langue étrangère) 26. 31-50. Flecken, M. 2010. Event conceptualization in language production of early bilinguals. LOT 256. Hopper, P. 1979. Aspect and foregrounding in discourse. In T. Givón. Discourse and syntax, 213-241. New York AP. Kemenade, A. van, et al. 2008. From bounded to unbounded events. Kemenade, A. & M. Westergaard. 2012. Syntax and information structure: Verb-second variation in Middle English. In A. Meurman-Solin et al. (eds.), Information Structure and Syntactic Change in the History of English. Oxford UP Los, B. 2000. Onginnan/beginnan in Ælfric with bare and to-infinitive. In O. Fischer et al. (eds.), Pathways of change. Grammaticalization in English, 251-274. Benjamins. Petré, Peter. 2011. LEON 0.3 (

  27. Link topresentation: OR Thanks! Peter Petre, University of Leuvenpeter.petre@arts.kuleuven.be