Middle English verbs of emotion and impersonal constructions: A diachronic study of the syntax-semantics interface
[Thesis].The University of Manchester;2011.
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This thesis investigates the under-discussed question of why certain verbs are attested in impersonal constructions in the history of English while others are not, even though they look almost synonymous (e.g. LIKE and LOATHE: impersonal; LOVE and HATE: non-impersonal). By carefully studying the behaviour of impersonal verbs and near-synonymous non-impersonal verbs, this thesis attempts to identify factors that determined the presence, absence and spread of impersonal usage with Middle English verbs of emotion and demonstrates that we can make reasonable generalisations about when the usage was licensed. The first chapter provides an overview of previous studies, with special reference to different syntactic-semantic definitions and classifications of 'impersonals'. The next chapter considers possible methodological approaches for this thesis by reviewing several case studies of near-synonymous verbs in early English. It also discusses causation and aspect, two of the crucial concepts in the literature on psych-verbs in modern languages. The third chapter introduces the _Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary_, whose categorisations were adopted in this thesis. On the basis of the definitions provided in dictionaries of Old and Middle English, Chapter 4 examines how impersonal usage rose and spread in each of the seven _HTOED_ 'Emotion' categories which include impersonal verbs. Common semantic characteristics of these verbs are then established. Verbs of Fear and Anger turn out to have parallel histories in that they first developed impersonal usage in early Middle English and that the usage shifted around the fourteenth century from verbs with a certain sense of stimulus to those which expressed general fear and anger. No such systematic change is observed with the other categories, though some of them experienced minor development around the same time. Chapter 5 carefully analyses the data in the relevant entries of the _Middle English Dictionary_ according to five factors, namely causation, aspect, constructional patterns, animacy of the Target of Emotion and argument alternation. Each of these factors has an effect: most of the impersonal verbs of emotion are causative and stative, while some non-impersonal verbs are non-causative or non-stative. These two sets of verbs are also sometimes distinguished by the availability of Experiencer-subject passive constructions and apparent cases of the conative alternation. A number of impersonal verbs favour inanimate Targets, while some frequent non-impersonal verbs do not. The final chapter concludes that the use or non-use of Middle English verbs of emotion in impersonal constructions was affected by causation, transitivity and animacy of the Target of Emotion, the first two of which undergo diachronic transitions. The findings in this thesis are shown to receive support in the definitions and classifications of emotions in psychology.
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