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The demise of a preterite-present verb

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Abstract

The group of Old English preterite-present verbs, originally comprising twelve items, was considerably reduced so that only six have survived to the present day. The present paper focuses on the fate of the verb <i>unnan</i> &#8216;grant&#8217;, with an attempt to account for its disappearance from the language. Because of its meaning, in Old English <i>unnan </i>was mainly employed in legal documents, especially wills. It was also attested in religious writings in the context of God. In Early Middle English, the lack of legal texts produced in the vernacular resulted in a considerable decrease in the verb frequency. In religious context <i>unnan </i>was still occasionally found, although the reference to God&#8217;s grants was more likely expressed with other verbs<i>.</i> Thus, the study shows that the drop in the frequency of <i>unnan </i>and its subsequent elimination was mainly due to the shortage of English legal texts and the competition with native synonyms.

References

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