What happened to the English prefix, and could it stage a comeback?

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This paper revisits the historical shift in English verb-particle combinations from prefixed to prepositional and adverbial forms based on qualitative and quantitative examples from the Helsinki and Wycliffe corpora collected during a study on the history of verb-particle combinations (Diemer 2008). It is argued that the reasons for the disappearance of the English prefix are more complex than previously thought. The paper proposes a combination of competition-based and systemic reasons while allowing for additional influence by other developments, such as verb frequency and spelling habits. Excerpts from corpus-based studies (Diemer 2009, 2013) show that the development is not irreversible, since due to the influence of computer-mediated communication there may be a revival of prefix verbs modelled after Old English templates.


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