Watching <i>as</i>-clauses in Late Modern English

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Eventive percepts can be expressed not only by means of non-finite complements, either with an infinitive or a participle (e.g. <i>She watched his hand trace/tracing the words</i>), but also by means of hypotactic integration with or without a direct object (e.g. <i>She watched his hand as it traced the words</i>, <i>She watched as it traced the words</i>). In this paper, I mainly investigate the diachronic development of the relation between these two strategies in the case of the verb <i>watch</i> and the subordinator <i>as</i> in Late Modern English. However, the history of other options such as the use of eventive nominals and adjectives (e.g. <i>She watched the setting of the sun</i>,<i> She watched the setting sun</i>) and small clauses (e.g. <i>He watched her out of sight</i>) is also considered. The historical analysis, carried out mainly using the 400 million word Corpus of Historical American English (COHA), reveals a shift from more nominal to more clausal strategies in the expression of eventive percepts. The non-finite complement option, especially in its infinitive variant, and the hypotactic integration strategy without a direct object, emerged as the preferred options by the end of the last century. The paper concludes with some speculations as to why such changes have taken place.


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