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From ‘quickly’ to ‘fairly’: on the history of rather1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 July 2008

MATTI RISSANEN*
Affiliation:
Department of English, University of Helsinki, P.O. Box 24 (Unioninkatu 40), 00014 University of Helsinki, Finlandmatti.rissanen@helsinki.fi

Abstract

In this article I describe the semantic and syntactic development of the moderator rather from Old to Present-day English using a variationist approach. Rather originates in an Old English comparative adverb indicating speed, and hence time, but the loss of the indication of speed and movement can already be traced in the Old English period. In Middle English the ‘preferential’ senses of rather (e.g. the type ‘I would rather do X than Y’) become more common than the temporal senses. This contrastive meaning constitutes the unmarked use of rather in Early Modern English, but it gradually weakens in the course of the Modern English period. The moderator use becomes popular in the second half of the eighteenth century. The semantic development outlined above goes hand in hand with a syntactic development from an original adjunct into a subjunct and conjunct, and finally into a modifier of adjectives and adverbs.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2008

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