Final Question 1

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Final Question 1

Post  Sébastien Hamel on Sun Apr 24, 2011 1:20 pm

1) In the Early Modern English period, we see the emergence of the auxiliary “DO”. Explain:
- When the use of auxiliary “DO” first appears (date, dialect, etc.).
- What function it served (did it have the same use as today or was it more restricted
or less restricted).
- It early evolution


The origins of DO are very unclear and can only be speculative, but there are some theories on the subject that I explored. According to the Oxford dictionary of English, the first trace of this auxiliary was seen in traditional south-western dialects to express that the action was habitual, like in “He did go to Church everyday”. It was also thought to have some Celtic influence according to Studies in the History of the English Language, because some written trace of DO were found in the thirteen century in the Celtic territory . Since the English language was in contact with Celtic languages around it is quite possible. Another theory about the origin of DO is that is comes from the contacts between English and Anglo-Norman French. Also, since it was attested in early Middle English poetry, some think that it was merely a metrical filler use to make poems look better and that with time people started to incorporate the auxiliary in their language. Unfortunately, none of these theories can be verified, we would have to go back in time to really know where the DO first appeared.
The periphrastic semantically empty DO appeared first in the 13th century, but at that time it had no special connections with negation or inversion and it was not governed by any grammatical rules. The link between the auxiliary and the sentence type appeared only in the beginning of the 15th century and was completely integrated at the end of the 16th century.
During the sixteenth century, DO was used more than ever. It was mainly use to in questions and interrogatives. It was also much rarer for someone to not use the DO in an interrogative, and especially in negative interrogatives. The affirmative declarative form of DO soon followed like it can be seen sin the following sentence “I did mislike the Queenes Mariage” from Sir Nicholas Throckmorton’s confession. Nowadays the affirmative use of DO is the least frequent one, but the sixteenth century, it was the most frequently used. The fact that affirmative statements are much more common in communication than negative statements, especially in questions, can indicate why do was used so much in an affirmative way. For an unsure reason, the affirmative DO was used less and less from 1640 to 1710. This phenomenon was first seen in the city of London. The contact with Scots in the capital following the arrival of King James and the Scottish court in London after the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603. The timing would match the date of change. Both negative and affirmative use of DO declined in usage, but the drop was less significant for the negative version. After 1710, the negative use of DO started to be used more than the affirmative use of DO, which corresponds to the way we use it nowadays.


After look at some when DO started to appear and how it was used, it is time to answer to another question, why was it created? The negative and interrogative functions of DO had in common that they can represent the realisation of an event and the nonrealisation of an event. Someone only negate or ask question about something that is a possibility. If someone says “Did King Alfred write the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle?”. He or she offers two possibilities to an interlocutor: the possibility that King Alfred is the author and the possibility that King Alfred is not the author . This is the kind of function that was more confusion before the use of DO. We also saw earlier that DO was use sometime as a polite form in Middle English, if we keep in mind that it represents realisation of an event and the non-realisation of an event, it resembles the way we use words like “could” or “may” today to ask permission. In Middle English people could use “Do sit down” as the equivalent of “Would you sit down?”. Furthermore, DO has probably started to be used to fill some syntactic needs because when no other auxiliary is present, it provides a carrier for the tense, mood, and polarity of the clause. However, many scholars argue that the appearance of DO in affirmative declaratives in the sixteenth century was not so much to do with syntax. They say that it was the influence of textual and stylistic factors that lead people to use DO. In some case using DO make the text easier to understand. For example, an adverbial separating the subject from the verb makes the clause harder for the reader to understand. Using DO in such a context can be quite useful. Also, when a sentence had no auxiliary verb, DO was used to fill the role of operator, It is used as an "empty" operator since it does not carry meaning but defines number, person, and tense. It was something that, according to my knowledge, was missing in the English language. In fact, the DO clearly proves a useful multi-purpose device in Tudor English.

1. Morris Lori, It’s a Long Story.
2. Mugglestone, Linda. (2006). The Oxford History of English. Oxford University Press.
3. Markku Filppula, Juhani Klemola. Studies in the History of the English Language: Celtic Influence on English. New-York. Pages 207–230
4. Hudson, Richard.The rise of auxiliary DO: verb-non-raising or category-strengthening? University College London.
5. Blake, Norman. The Cambridge history of the English language. Cambridge University Press. 2006.

Sébastien Hamel

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