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  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: September 2009

10 - Partitive constructions in nineteenth-century English

Summary

Introduction

In English, partitive constructions are frequently used to quantify or characterize noncount and plural count nouns, as in (1).

(1) [$Gen.$] Why, I own your case is singular; but I'll give you a bit of advice, I have often received advice from you –

(Drama, Thomas Morton, 1800–30, p. 32)

Such partitive constructions, or, simply, partitives, consist of a partitive noun followed by the preposition of and the complement of this preposition: in (1) above, bit is the partitive noun and advice the prepositional complement. Partitive constructions typically encode a part/whole relationship, where the partitive noun represents a part of the whole denoted by the complement. It is of interest to describe the use of partitives in English in order to enable future cross-linguistic comparisons. For instance, there are similarities between partitives and classifiers in classifier languages, such as Vietnamese (Svensson 1998: 200–2).

The aim of the present study is to analyse the use and distribution of partitive constructions in nineteenth-century English. The 1800s constitute an important period regarding the occurrence of partitives containing lot/s (Smitterberg 2003). The same time span could also be expected to have been important to the English partitive construction from a more general perspective.

Partitive constructions have not received a great deal of attention in the scholarly literature (Svensson 1998: 198): in order to open up this field of research more fully, I therefore adopt a broad methodological approach in the present study.