Folia Linguistica Historica vol:30 issue:1 pages:311-365
Applying the framework of Radical Construction Grammar to diachronic phenomena, the present paper examines Copular Constructions in Old and Middle English, with special attention to the loss of the Copula weorðan ‘become’. First we reconstruct the extension of the OE Verbs is, beon, weorðan and becuman to various types of Copular Constructions. We further argue that schematic Copular Constructions emerge in overlapping usage areas resulting from these developments, in which abstraction is made of the Copulas’ particular aspectual semantics. These schematic Copular Constructions in turn undergo some changes themselves. In Middle English a Passive Construction developed out of an original Copula Construction involving Adjectival Participles. However, the constructional profile of weorðan comprised an association between Participial and Adjectival Subject Complements much stronger than in other copulas, and this conflicted with this development, with the archaisization of weorðan as a result. This process of archaisization was further strengthened by the takeover of Weak Verbs in -ian (type ealdian ‘become old’) by new copulas like becuman. In general, we show how diachronic construction grammar might account for the loss of a function word otherwise difficult to account for.