Þǣr wæs vs. thâr was

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Even though we can observe striking differences in the isolating contexts of Modern English and Modern High German existential constructions, both languages feature existential constructions with locative adverbs that are the result of long processes of grammaticalisation. In Old English (OE), expletive <i>&#254;&#230;&#772;r</i> diverged from the locative <i>&#254;&#230;&#772;r</i> as a result of semantic and syntactic reanalysis, which led to the development of the English existential <i>there</i>-construction (ETC). In a similar way, Old High German (OHG) <i>th&#226;r</i>, through grammaticalisation, diverged from its locative origin and gave rise to the existential <i>da</i>-construction. It is suggested in this paper that there was a common origin: both <i>&#254;&#230;&#772;r</i> and <i>th&#226;r</i> evolved as a compromise in the conflict between pragmatic and syntactic structure in OE and OHG, respectively. The aim is to contribute to the still small number of qualitative and quantitative studies of OE and OHG existential constructions.


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