Title: Branching out: a diachronic prototype approach to the development of the English absolute
Authors: van de Pol, Nikki
Cuyckens, Hubert
Issue Date: 26-Aug-2014
Conference: ISLE edition:3 location:Zürich date:24-27 August 2014
Abstract: This paper examines the structural and semantic expansion of the absolute construction (AC) in the history of English. The AC is a non-finite construction consisting of a (pro-)nominal head and a predicate which typically adds adverbial background information to its matrix clause. In Old English, the AC's range of predicate types was limited to present and past participles (1) and the construction usually indicated a temporal (1) or additional circumstance relation.

(1) Ðæt Mercna mægð, ofslegenum Pendan hyra cyninge, Cristes geleafan onfengon. (OE Bede, Index)
'The Mercians received Christ's faith, when their king Pendan was slain.' [lit.: slain.DAT Penda.DAT their king.DAT].'
In Present-day English, however, the structural range of ACs has come to include NPs (2b), AdjPs (2a), AdvPs and PrepPs (Kortmann 1995: 195), each subtype increasingly occurring as a with-augmented AC (3). Semantically, the range of adverbial meanings expressed by the construction has broadened and quasi-coordinate uses (2) have surfaced (Author1 2013).

(2) The King's neck was broken, his face almost unrecognisable, his body a mass of bruises. (BNC)
(3) Kylie had cathartically climbed out of her demure old skin ..., with the world watching. (BNC)

Based on some 10,000 structurally and semantically coded ACs (taken from the YCOE, PENN, Old Bailey Corpus, and BNC), this paper maps out the expansion of ACs (viewed as form-meaning constructs), detailing how ACs developed from the first participial uses, and indicating which subtypes were added and which were lost or marginalized. Adopting a prototype-theoretical framework (Geeraerts 1997), we will represent this development as a changing network of subtypes interrelated through family-resemblance (similarity/analogy). Particular attention is given to how (frequency-based) prototypical cores may shift over time (consider the shift from truly adverbial ACs to ACs with a quasi-coordinate function), how new types may develop from multiple sources, i.e. through the joint influence of existing types (e.g. with-ACs), how prototypical cores may shift over time, and how analogy/similarity have played a role in this development. Analogy, for instance, may have been at work in the extension of the AC’s predicate-slot from past participle expressing a (resultant) state (4) to AdjP(5)/NP/PP on the basis that AdjPs, NPs and PPs in combination with the AC's subject nominal share a ‘state’ semantics with past participle ACs.)

(4) She was maimed; her mast and sails splintered... (BNC)
(5) It is wrote in imitation of Livy, the style masculine; ... (PENN)

Further, it is explored how this expansion of the ACs' prototypical network created areas of overlap with other constructions such as gerunds and (prepositional) postmodifiers. It is argued that these areas of overlap may have guarded English ACs from becoming a marginal construction, as in other Present-day Germanic languages like Dutch.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: IMa
Appears in Collections:Functional and Cognitive Linguistics: Grammar and Typology (FunC), Leuven

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