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How do grammatical patterns emerge? The origins and development of the English proper noun modifier construction

  • TINE BREBAN (a1) and HENDRIK DE SMET (a2)

Abstract

This article studies the emergence of a grammatical pattern, the proper noun modifier construction shown in the Obama administration, an Edinburgh restaurant. The only dedicated historical corpus study, by Rosenbach (2007, 2010), is limited in terms of time depth and data included, and suggests that only proper noun modifiers denoting places such as Edinburgh are found in the early seventeenth century. Using corpus data that span the full history of English, we trace the construction back to two Old English precursors, genitival modifiers without inflectional marking, e.g. Jericho feldes ‘the fields of Jericho’, and compounds, e.g. Easter æfen ‘Easter eve’. We combine macro-level visualisations of distributions and qualitative micro-analyses to show how these source constructions developed into the present-day English construction. The development defies simplistic views on grammatical change, but illustrates that grammatical patterns develop out of multiple sources under the influence of a multiplicity of factors. New patterns only emerge gradually and exploit existing ambiguities in the language.

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We'd like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for the time generously spent reading and commenting on the first version of this article. Tine Breban is grateful to the AHRC which funded the Leadership Fellowship (AH/N002911/1) during which this research was carried out.

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References

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How do grammatical patterns emerge? The origins and development of the English proper noun modifier construction

  • TINE BREBAN (a1) and HENDRIK DE SMET (a2)

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