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The Old English copula <i>weor&#240;an</i> and its replacement in Middle English

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Abstract

With the aid of a specially compiled corpus, this paper accounts for the replacement – mainly by <i>become </i>– of <i>weorðan </i>‘become’, whose use rapidly decreased in Middle English. Drawing on Goldbergian construction grammar, the paper posits the existence of a lexeme-independent network of copular constructions [Copula + np/ap/…]. Copular uses of <i>weorðan </i>are associated with this network, but also form part of a second network exclusive to <i>weorðan</i>, which, already in Old English, served as a model for the extension of <i>becuman </i>to copular uses. In early Middle English, <i>weorðan </i>reacted to changes in the lexeme-independent copular network. <i>Weorðan </i>was no longer used with adjectival participles when these were constructionally separated from its most frequent collocates, namely human propensity adjectives. Furthermore, reacting to an influx of various adjectives in predicate position, <i>becuman</i>, which had no collocational preferences, extended its use to these adjectives and eventually took over from <i>weorðan </i>completely.

References

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