English Language and Linguistics vol:14 issue:3 pages:457-484
In this article, I relate the loss of weorðan in the past tense to the loss of an Old English grammatical subsystem that encouraged the expression of narrative by bounded sentence constructions. This type of construction represents a situation as reaching its goal or endpoint, and serves to mark progress in a narrative (e.g. then he walked over to the other side). Instead of this system, from Middle English onwards a mixed system emerges with differently structured bounded sentence constructions as well as, increasingly, unbounded sentence constructions – which structure events as open-ended, usually by means of a progressive form (e.g. he was walking). I show how weorðan in Old English was strongly associated with the Old English system of bounded sentence constructions – an association with boundedness is not surprising given its meaning of ‘(sudden) transition into another state’. In the thirteenth century this rigid Old English system started to break down, as primarily evidenced by the disappearance of the time adverbial þa and the loss of verb-second. Wearð, being strongly associated with the old way of structuring narrative, decreased too and eventually disappeared.