Linguistics and English Language graduate wins prestigious dissertation prize
Rebecka Elm has won a national award recognising her dissertation as one of the best in the UK
Congratulations to 2019 MA Linguistics and English Language graduate Rebecka Elm who is one of three winners of the Outstanding Undergraduate Dissertation in Linguistics prize from the Linguistics Association of Great Britain (LAGB).
Understanding language change
Rebecka won the prize for her dissertation comprising a comparative study on the development of substitutive ᴅᴏ in Old to Middle French and Middle English through time, using a range of methodologies, and discussing issues in syntax, semantics and historical linguistics.
Substitutive ᴅᴏ is an anaphoric construction where ‘do’ replaces a verb phrase or a part of a verb phrase. This is an example from Modern English, where ‘did’ acts as a substitute for ‘ate a starfruit’:
‘Abe ate a starfruit and Betty did too.’
This construction is common in Modern English but does not exist in Modern French.
However, one previous study (Miller, 1997) notes that there is clear evidence of this particular construction in Old and Middle French. This is the only discussion of substitutive ᴅᴏ in French, and there is very limited literature on substitutive ᴅᴏ in English.
First study of its kind
This is the first study to take a detailed look at the language evolution of substitutive ᴅᴏ in French and in English, doing so by analysing extensive corpus data.
This study presented an exciting opportunity to conduct empirical research on a topic that had not been studied before. Starting from a theoretical exploration of the syntax and semantics of an anaphoric construction, I was then able to track its development over time using the wealth of information provided by parsed corpora, which are a fantastic tool for understanding language change.
The results show that substitutive ᴅᴏ was well-substantiated in French around 1100-1475, with a peak in usage around 1250 and sparsely evidenced from 1500 onwards.
Substitutive ᴅᴏ was overall more frequent in Middle English than in French in the corresponding period. The usage was robust throughout Middle English, undergoing only a slight and gradual decrease from the start to the end of the period.
The study also examined the hypothesis that substitutive ᴅᴏ emerged or increased in usage due to contact between the two languages,
Substitutive ᴅᴏ, a construction which appears to be typologically rare, existed in both French and English in the period after the Norman invasion. Interestingly, the evidence indicates that this syntactic feature developed independently in the two languages, at different rates and with different start and endpoints, not as a result of contact influence.
This poses interesting questions for future research, about what it is about these two languages that allowed this to come about, and which factors led to the decline and subsequent disappearance of French substitutive ᴅᴏ.
Miller, Philip Harold. 1997. Auxiliary verbs in Old and Middle French: A diachronic study of substitutive faire and a comparison with the Modern English auxiliaries. In Kemenade, Ans van & Nigel Vincent (eds.), Parameters of Morphosyntactic Change, 119-133. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Related degree programme
Linguistics Association of Great Britain
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