Skip to main content Accessibility help

Constructional competition and network reconfiguration: investigating sum(e) in Old, Middle and Early Modern English



This article investigates some functions of the determinative sum(e) in Old, Middle and Early Modern English. It traces, quantifies and models the diachronic development of sum(e) as a pre-head element from a usage-based, cognitive Construction Grammar perspective by postulating several semi-specified but also abstract constructional OE and ME NP-schemas and sketching the observable (changing) network (re)configurations. By analyzing texts from the Penn–Helsinki Parsed Corpus of Middle English (PPCME) and the Penn–Helsinki Parsed Corpus of Early Modern English (PPCEME), the article especially focuses on the demise of the so-called ‘individualizing’ usage with singular nouns and traces the incipient stages of sum(e) as an indefinite near-article with plural and mass nouns. R was used to calculate correlation coefficients and measures of statistical significance in univariate analyses, and for multivariate regression models to address questions involving more than one predictor variable. It is shown that the usage of sum(e) with singular nouns became marginalized because of constructional competition with the numeral ān. In Old English, the two forms were both occasionally used to mark indefiniteness before singular nouns, but ultimately ān became the default marker of indefiniteness ousting sum(e). We also show that that the usage of sum(e) as an indefiniteness marker for plural nouns increased drastically from the later ME period onwards, particularly in informal text genres. Moreover, from the earliest periods onwards, there is a strong preference for this function to occur with complex NPs with pre- and post-head modification, which seem to have acted as bridging contexts.



Hide All
Baayen, R. Harald. 2008. Analyzing linguistic data: A practical introduction to statistics using R. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Barðdal, Jóhanna & Gildea, Spike. 2015. Diachronic Construction Grammar: Epistemological context, basic assumptions and historical implications. In Barðdal, Smirnova, Sommerer & Gildea (eds.), 1–50.
Barðdal, Jóhanna, Smirnova, Elena, Sommerer, Lotte & Gildea, Spike (eds.). 2015. Diachronic Construction Grammar. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Bergs, Alexander & Diewald, Gabriele (eds.). 2008. Constructions and language change. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Biber, Douglas, Johansson, Stig, Leech, Geoffrey, Conrad, Susan & Finegan, Edward. 1999. Longman grammar of spoken and written English. Harlow: Longman.
Boas, Hans. 2013. Cognitive Construction Grammar. In Hoffmann & Trousdale (eds.), 233–55.
Boogaart, Ronny, Colleman, Timothy & Rutten, Gijsbert (eds.). 2014. Extending the scope of Construction Grammar. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Bybee, Joan. 2001. Phonology and language use. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bybee, Joan. 2010. Language, usage and cognition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Carlier, Anne. 2007. From preposition to article: The grammaticalization of the French partitive. Studies in Language 31(1), 149.
Chesterman, Andrew. 1993. Articles and no articles. In Jucker, Andreas (ed.), The noun phrase in English: Its structure and variability, 1324. Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag C. Winter.
Christophersen, Paul. 1939. The articles: A study of their theory and use in English. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Coussé, Evie, Andersson, Peter & Olofsson, Joel (eds.). 2018. Grammaticalization meets Construction Grammar: Opportunities, challenges and potential incompatibilities. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Croft, William. 2001. Radical Construction Grammar: Syntactic theory in typological perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Croft, William & Cruse, Alan D.. 2004. Cognitive linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
De Smet, Hendrik. 2013. Spreading patterns: Diffusional change in the English system of complementation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Diessel, Holger. 2015. Usage-based construction grammar. In Dąbrowska, Ewa & Divjak, Dagmar (eds.), Handbook of cognitive linguistics, 295321. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.
Diessel, Holger. 2019. The grammar network. How linguistic structure is shaped by use. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
DOEC = Healey, Antonette diPaolo, Wilkin, John Price & Xiang, Xin. 2009. Dictionary of Old English Web Corpus. University of Toronto. (accessed 8 May 2019).
Downing, Angela & Locke, Philip. 2006. English grammar: A university course, 2nd edn.London and New York: Routledge.
Ellis, Nick C., Römer, Ute & O'Donnell, Matthew B.. 2016. Usage-based approaches to language acquisition and processing: Cognitive and corpus investigations of Construction Grammar. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
Evans, Vyvyan & Green, Melanie. 2006. Cognitive linguistics: An introduction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Fischer, Olga. 2007. Morphosyntactic change: Functional and formal perspectives. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Fonteyn, Lauren & Heyvaert, Liesbet. 2018. Category change in the English gerund: Tangled web or fine-tuned constructional network? In Van Goethem, Norde, Coussé & Vanderbauwhede (eds.), 149–77.
Goldberg, Adele E. 2006. Constructions at work: The nature of generalization in language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Goldberg, Adele E. 2019. Explain me this: Creativity, competition, and the partial productivity of constructions. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Gries, Stefan Th. 2009. Statistics for linguistics with R: A practical introduction. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.
Halliday, Michael A. K. & Matthiessen, Christian M. I. M.. 2014. An introduction to functional grammar, 4th edn.London: Routledge.
Hawkins, John A. 2004. Efficiency and complexity in grammars. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Heltveit, Trygve. 1977. Aspects of the syntax of quantifiers in Old English. Linguistics 31, 4794.
Hilpert, Martin. 2013. Constructional change in English: Developments in allomorphy, word formation, and syntax. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hilpert, Martin. 2014. Construction Grammar and its application to English. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Hilpert, Martin. 2018. Three open questions in diachronic construction grammar. In Coussé, Andersson & Olofsson (eds.), 21–39.
Hilpert, Martin & Diessel, Holger. 2016. Entrenchment in Construction Grammar. In Schmid, Hans-Jörg (ed.), Entrenchment and the psychology of language learning, 5774. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.
Hoffmann, Thomas & Trousdale, Graeme. 2011. Variation, change and constructions in English. Cognitive Linguistics 22(1), 123.
Hoffmann, Thomas & Trousdale, Graeme (eds.). 2013. The Oxford handbook of Construction Grammar. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Huddleston, Rodney & Pullum, Geoffrey K.. 2002. The Cambridge grammar of the English language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Israel, Michael. 1996. The way constructions grow. In Goldberg, Adele E. (ed.), Conceptual structure, discourse and language, 217–30. Stanford, CA: CSLI.
Israel, Michael. 2000. Some and the pragmatics of indefinite construal. Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society 25(1), 169–82.
Jacobsson, Bengt. 2002. The indefinites some and any in linguistic theory and actual usage. Studia Neophilologica 74(1), 114.
Jespersen, Otto. 1949. A modern English grammar on historical principles. Part 7. Copenhagen: E. Munksgaard.
Kingston, John. 2007. The phonetics–phonology interface. In de Lacy, Paul (ed.), The Cambridge handbook of phonology, 401–34. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Koch, Peter & Oesterreicher, Wulf. 1985. Sprache der Nähe – Sprache der Distanz. Mündlichkeit und Schriftlichkeit im Spannungsfeld von Sprachtheorie und Sprachgeschichte. Romanistisches Jahrbuch 36, 1543.
Langacker, Ronald W. 2008. Cognitive Grammar: A basic introduction. New York: Oxford University Press.
Levshina, Natalia. 2015. How to do linguistics with R: Data exploration and statistical analysis. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Lorenz, David. Forthcoming. Converging variations and the emergence of horizontal links: to-contraction in American English. In Sommerer & Smironova (eds.).
Mitchell, Bruce. 1985. Old English syntax. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Mustanoja, Tauno F. 1960. A Middle English syntax, part I. Helsinki: Société Néophilologique.
OED = Oxford English Dictionary. 1989. 2nd edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Payne, John & Huddleston, Rodney. 2002. Nouns and noun phrases. In Huddleston & Pullum, 323–523.
PPCEME = Kroch, Anthony, Santorini, Beatrice & Delfs, Lauren. 2004. The Penn–Helsinki Parsed Corpus of Early Modern English (PPCEME). University of Pennsylvania.
PPCME = Kroch, Anthony & Taylor, Ann. 2000. The Penn–Helsinki Parsed Corpus of Middle English (PPCME2). University of Pennsylvania.
Quirk, Randolph, Greenbaum, Sidney, Leech, Geoffrey & Svartvik, Jan. 1985. A comprehensive grammar of the English language. Harlow: Longman.
R Core Team 2018. R: A language and environment for statistical computing. Vienna: R Foundation for Statistical Computing.
Rissanen, Matti. 1967. The uses of one in Old and Early Middle English. Helsinki: Modern Language Society.
Ropers, Karl. 1918. Zur Syntax und Stilistik des Pronominalgebrauchs bei Aelfric. Dissertation, University of Kiel.
Sahlin, Elisabeth. 1979. Some and any in spoken and written English. Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis.
Selkirk, Elisabeth. 1996. The prosodic structure of function words. In Morgan, James L. & Demuth, Katherine (eds.), Signal to syntax: Bootstrapping from speech to grammar in early acquisition, 187214. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Smirnova, Elena & Sommerer, Lotte. Forthcoming. The nature of the node and the network: Open questions in Diachronic Construction Grammar. In Sommerer & Smirnova (eds.),
Sommerer, Lotte. 2012. Investigating article development in Old English: About categorization, gradualness and constructions. Folia Linguistica Historica 33, 175213.
Sommerer, Lotte 2015. The influence of constructions in grammaticalization: Revisiting category emergence and the development of the definite article in English. In Barðdal, Jóhanna, Smirnova, Elena, Sommerer, Lotte & Gildea, Spike (eds.), Diachronic Construction Grammar, 107–33. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Sommerer, Lotte. 2018. Article emergence in Old English: A constructionalist perspective. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.
Sommerer, Lotte. Forthcoming. Constructionalization, constructional competition and constructional death: Investigating the demise of Old English poss dem constructions. In Sommerer & Smirnova (eds.).
Sommerer, Lotte & Smirnova, Elena (eds.). Forthcoming. Nodes and networks: Advances in Diachronic Construction Grammar. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Steels, Luc (ed.). 2011. Design patterns in fluid Construction Grammar. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Süsskand, Peter. 1935. Geschichte des unbestimmten Artikels im Alt- und Frühmittelenglischen. Halle: Niemeyer.
Tomasello, Michael. 2003. Constructing a language: A usage-based theory of language acquisition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Torrent, Tiago T. 2015. On the relation between inheritance and change: The construction network reconfiguration hypothesis. In Barðdal, Smirnova, Sommerer & Gildea (eds.), 173–212.
Traugott, Elizabeth C. 1992. Syntax. In Hogg, Richard M. (ed.), The Cambridge history of the English language, vol. 1: From the beginnings to 1066, 168289. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Traugott, Elizabeth C. & Trousdale, Graeme. 2013. Constructionalization and constructional changes. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Trousdale, Graeme. 2014. On the relationship between grammaticalization and constructionalization. Folia Linguistica 48(2), 557–78.
Trousdale, Graeme & Gisborne, Nikolas (eds.). 2008. Constructional approaches to English grammar. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Van Goethem, Kristel, Norde, Muriel, Coussé, Evie & Vanderbauwhede, Gudrun. 2018. Category change from a constructional perspective: Introduction. In Van Goethem, Norde, Coussé & Vanderbauwhede (eds.), 3–12.
Van Goethem, Kristel, Norde, Muriel, Coussé, Evie & Vanderbauwhede, Gudrun (eds.), Category change from a constructional perspective. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Wülfing, Johann E. 1901 [1894]. Die Syntax in den Werken Alfreds des Großen. Bonn: Hanstein.
Zehentner, Eva. 2019. Competition in language change: The rise of the English dative alternation. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.
Zehentner, Eva & Traugott, Elizabeth C.. Forthcoming. Constructional networks and the development of benefactive ditransitives. In Sommerer & Smirnova (eds.).


Constructional competition and network reconfiguration: investigating sum(e) in Old, Middle and Early Modern English



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.