Volume 25, Issue 3
  • ISSN 0929-998X
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9765
Buy:$35.00 + Taxes



This paper traces the semantic development of the English absolute construction from Old to Present-day English on the basis of extensive corpus data. It is observed that the absolute construction developed from a solely adverbial, strictly subordinate construction into a construction with a much larger range of functions, including quasi-coordinate constructions whose ‘addition’ function comes close to that of -coordinated finite clauses. This development involves an expansion of clausal status (from subordinate to anywhere between subordinate and quasi-coordinate) and a semantic expansion from typically adverbial meanings to any type of additional information. The process is claimed to have been facilitated by Middle English case loss and arguments for this facilitating role of case loss are adduced. It is then shown how these quasi-coordinate absolute constructions became more and more important as an absolute construction-function over time, as they were well-suited to the absolute construction’s high degree of syntactic independence. This evolution appears to have taken an opposite direction from the development of free adjuncts (Killie & Swann 2009: 339). This observation fits in well with the proposal that English -clauses form a network (Fonteyn & van de Pol 2015) in which each member maintains its own functional niche, rather than engaging in competition with one another.


Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


  1. BNC: The British National Corpus, later part 20th century, 100 m words. Department of Linguistics, University of Oxford. www.natcorp.ox.ac.uk/corpus/index.xml?ID=intro.
    [Google Scholar]
  2. OBC: Huber, Magnus, Magnus Nissel, Patrick Maiwald & Bianca Widlitzki 2012The Old Bailey Corpus. Spoken English in the 18th and 19th Centuries. www.uni-giessen.de/oldbaileycorpus.
    [Google Scholar]
  3. Innsbruck Corpus of Middle English Prose 1150–1500, 7.8m words. Compiled byManfred Markus. www.helsinki.fi/varieng/CoRD/corpora/ICoMEP/.
    [Google Scholar]
  4. PPCEME: The Penn-Helsinki Parsed Corpus of Early Modern English 1500–1710, 1.7 m words. Department of Linguistics, University of Pennsylvania. CD-ROM, 1st edn, www.ling.upenn.edu/hist-corpora/.
    [Google Scholar]
  5. PPCMBE: The Penn-Helsinki Parsed Corpus of Modern British English 1700–1914, 1 m words. Department of Linguistics, University of Pennsylvania. CD-ROM, 1st edn, www.ling.upenn.edu/hist-corpora/.
    [Google Scholar]
  6. PPCME2: The Penn-Helsinki Parsed Corpus of Middle English, second edition 1150–1500, 1.2 m words. Compiled byAnthony Kroch and Ann Taylor. www.ling.upenn.edu/hist-corpora/PPCME2-RELEASE-3/index.html
    [Google Scholar]
  7. YCOE: Taylor, Ann, Anthony Warner, Susan Pintzuk & Frank Beths 2003The York-Toronto-Helsinki Parsed Corpus of Old English Prose. University of York. www-users.york.ac.uk/~lang22/YCOE/YcoeHome.htm.
    [Google Scholar]
  8. The Leuven Drama Corpus 1965–1972, 1m words. Compiled byD. Geens, L. K. Engels and W. Martin.
    [Google Scholar]
  9. Barðdal, Jóhanna
    2013 Historical-comparative reconstruction. InThomas Hoffmann & Graeme Trousdale, The Oxford handbook of construction grammar, 329–344. Oxford: OUP.
    [Google Scholar]
  10. Bauer, Brigitte
    2000Archaic syntax in Indo-European. The spread of transitivity in Latin and French. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 10.1515/9783110825992
    https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110825992 [Google Scholar]
  11. Behrens, Bergliot & Cathrine Fabricius-Hansen
    2005 The relation accompanying circumstance across languages. Conflict between linguistic expression and discourse subordination?SPRIKreports 32. Available online atwww.hf.uio.no/forskningsprosjekter/sprik.
    [Google Scholar]
  12. Berent, G. P.
    1973 Absolute constructions as ‘subordinate clauses’. InClaudia Corum, T. Cedric Smith-Stark & Ann Weiser (eds.), You take the high node and I’ll take the low node. Papers from the Comparative Syntax Festival, 147–154. Chicago: Chicago Linguistics Society.
    [Google Scholar]
  13. Cristofaro, Sonia
    2003Subordination. Oxford: OUP.
    [Google Scholar]
  14. Goldberg, Adele E.
    1995Constructions: A construction grammar approach to argument structure. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  15. 2006Constructions at work: The nature of generalisation in language. Oxford: OUP.
    [Google Scholar]
  16. Halliday, M. A. K.
    2004An introduction to functional grammar, 3rd edn.London: Arnold.
    [Google Scholar]
  17. Hannay, Mike & J. Lachlan Mackenzie
    2002Effective writing in English: A sourcebook. Bussum: Coutinho.
    [Google Scholar]
  18. Haspelmath, Martin
    1995 The converb as a cross-linguistically valid category. InMartin Haspelmath & Ekkehard König (eds.), Converbs in a cross-linguistic perspective, 1–55. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
    [Google Scholar]
  19. Hilpert, Martin
    2013Constructional change in English. Developments in allomorphy, word formation, and syntax. Cambridge: CUP. 10.1017/CBO9781139004206
    https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139004206 [Google Scholar]
  20. Hilpert, Martin & Stefan Th. Gries
    2009 Assessing frequency changes in multi-stage diachronic corpora: Applications for historical corpus linguistics and the study of language acquisition. Literary and Linguistic Computing24(4). 385–401. 10.1093/llc/fqn012
    https://doi.org/10.1093/llc/fqn012 [Google Scholar]
  21. Huddleston, Rodney & Geoffrey K. Pullum
    2002The Cambridge grammar of the English language. Cambridge: CUP. 10.1017/9781316423530
    https://doi.org/10.1017/9781316423530 [Google Scholar]
  22. Jespersen, Otto
    1965A Modern English grammar on historical principles: Part V. London: George Allen and Unwin.
    [Google Scholar]
  23. Killie, Kristin & Toril Swan
    2009 The grammaticalization and subjectification of adverbial -ing clauses (converb clauses) in English. English Language and Linguistics13. 337–363. 10.1017/S1360674309990141
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S1360674309990141 [Google Scholar]
  24. Klemola, Juhani & Markku Filppula
    1992 Subordinating uses of and in the history of English. InMatti Rissanen, Ossi Ihalainen, Terttu Nevalainen & Irma Taavitsainen (eds.), History of Englishes: New methods and interpretations in historical linguistics. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 10.1515/9783110877007.310
    https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110877007.310 [Google Scholar]
  25. Kohnen, Thomas
    2004Text, textsorte, sprachgeschichte: Englische Partizipial- und Gerundialkonstruktionen 1100 bis 1700. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag. 10.1515/9783110914306
    https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110914306 [Google Scholar]
  26. Komen, J. H. M.
    1994Over de ontwikkeling van absolute constructies. Amsterdam: Buijten en Schipperhejn.
    [Google Scholar]
  27. König, Ekkehard & Johan van der Auwera
    1990 Adverbial participles, gerunds and absolute constructions in the languages of Europe. InJohannes Beclert, Giuluano Bernini & Claude Budart (eds.), Toward a typology of European languages, 337–355. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 10.1515/9783110863178.337
    https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110863178.337 [Google Scholar]
  28. Kortmann, Bernd
    1991Free adjuncts and absolutes in English: Problems of control and interpretation. London: Routledge.
    [Google Scholar]
  29. 1995 Adverbial participial clauses in English. InMartin Haspelmath & Ekkehard König (eds.), Converbs in cross- linguistic perspective, 189–237. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
    [Google Scholar]
  30. Leino, Jaakko
    2013 Information Structure. InThomas Hoffmann & Graeme Trousdale (eds.), The Oxford handbook of construction grammar, 329–344. Oxford: OUP.
    [Google Scholar]
  31. Levinson, S. C.
    1989 A review of relevance. Journal of Linguistics25. 455–472. 10.1017/S0022226700014183
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0022226700014183 [Google Scholar]
  32. Mitchell, Bruce
    1985Old English syntax. Oxford: Clarendon. 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198119357.001.0001
    https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198119357.001.0001 [Google Scholar]
  33. Müller-Lancé, Johannes
    1994Absolute Konstruktionen vom Altlatein bis zum Neufranzösischen: Ein Epochenvergleich unter Berücksichtigung von Mündlichkeit und Schriftlichkeit. Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag.
    [Google Scholar]
  34. Pol, Nikki van de
    2012 Between copy and cognate: The origin of absolutes in Old and Middle English. InMartine Robbeets & Lars Johanson (eds.), The origins of bound morphology, 297–322. Leiden: Brill.
    [Google Scholar]
  35. 2016The development of the absolute construction in English: Between bird’s eye view and magnifying glass. Leuven: University of Leuven PhD thesis.
    [Google Scholar]
  36. Pol, Nikki van de & Hubert Cuyckens
    2013 Gradualness in change in English augmented absolutes. In: Anna Giacalone Ramat, Caterina Mauri & Piera Molinelli (eds.), Synchrony and diachrony: A dynamic interface, 341-366. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
    [Google Scholar]
  37. Pol, Nikki van de & Hubert Cuyckens
    2014 The diffusion of English absolutes: A diachronic register study. InKristin Davidse, Caroline Gentens, Lobke Ghesquière & Lieven Vandelanotte (eds.), Corpus interrogation and grammatical patterns [Studies in Corpus Linguistics], 341–365. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 10.1075/scl.63.19pol
    https://doi.org/10.1075/scl.63.19pol [Google Scholar]
  38. Pol, Nikki van de & Lauren Fonteyn
    2014 All for one and one for all: The formation, evolution and functions of Modern English ing-clauses. Paper presented atICEHL, Leuven, 14–18 July 2014.
    [Google Scholar]
  39. 2015 Divide and conquer: The formation and functional dynamics of the Modern English ing-clause network. English Language and Linguistics20. 185–219.
    [Google Scholar]
  40. Río-Rey, Carmen
    2002 Subject control and coreference in Early Modern English free adjuncts and absolutes. English Language and Linguistics6(2). 309–323. 10.1017/S1360674302000254
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S1360674302000254 [Google Scholar]
  41. Ruppel, Antonia
    2013Absolute constructions in Early Indo-European [Cambridge Classical Studies]. Cambridge: CUP.
    [Google Scholar]
  42. Stump, G. T.
    1985The semantic variability of absolute constructions. Dordrecht: Reidel. 10.1007/978‑94‑009‑5277‑5
    https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-009-5277-5 [Google Scholar]
  43. Timofeeva, Olga
    2010Non-finite constructions in Old English with special reference to syntactic borrowing from Latin. Mémoires de la Société Néophilologique de Helsinki 80. Jyväskylä: WS Bookwell Oy.
    [Google Scholar]
  44. Timofeeva, Olga
    2012 Latin absolute constructions and their Old English equivalents: Interfaces between form and information structure. InAnneli Meurman-Solin, Maria José Lopez-Couso & Bettelou Los, Information structure and syntactic change in the history of English, 228-242. Oxford: OUP. 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199860210.003.0010
    https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199860210.003.0010 [Google Scholar]
  45. Traugott, Elizabeth Closs & Graeme Trousdale
    2013Constructionalization and constructional changes. Oxford: OUP. 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199679898.001.0001
    https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199679898.001.0001 [Google Scholar]
  46. Visser, Frederikus Theodorus
    1973An historical syntax of the English language. Vol.II. Leiden: Brill.
    [Google Scholar]

Data & Media loading...

  • Article Type: Research Article
This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was successful
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error