The reflexes of OE <i>beon</i> as a marker of futurity in early Middle English

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In Old English the finite forms of the <i>b</i>Lroot for &#8216;be&#8217; (<i>beo, bist, bi&#240;</i>, etc.) were more likely to appear in contexts involving futurity than the <i>s</i>Lroot (<i>eom, eart, is</i>, etc). The use of the <i>b</i>Lroot for future continues into Middle English. During the compilation of <i>LAEME</i>, we have observed that the complex and variable Old English distinction can become simplified and systematized. In early Middle English the use of <i>b</i>Lforms in the present indicative singular is in some text languages1 restricted entirely to future senses. In the areas where the <i>b</i>Lroot is the norm for present indicative plural, this system is confined to the singular. But in the North and to a certain extent the North Midlands, where <i>ar-/er</i>Lforms are available, the system is extended into the plural. Ilse Wischer&#8217;s contribution to this volume offers fascinating and detailed insights into the different forms of the verb &#8216;to be&#8217; in Old English and their distinctive functions. This paper looks mainly at subsequent developments. It therefore only briefly summarizes the Old English distinctions as background to a micro-dialectal study of three subsystems that emerge during early Middle English. Their identification gives rise to further questions that might reward investigation in the future.


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