Study of gan, can and beginnen in the Northern English and Scots of the late fourteenth and the fifteenth centuries
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In Middle English and Scots, instances of gan and can behave differently from etymologically related beginnen in that they are mainly, or exclusively, found with the plain infinitive and with a non-ingressive meaning. They also occur in narrative verse (rhymed and non-alliterative), where they have a metrical, intensive-descriptive or textual function. All of this suggests that gan and can are more advanced in the divergence of their development towards auxiliation than the verb beginnen. Earlier studies mainly concentrate on the meaning and/or function of gan and can in verse (Wuth 1915, Beschorner 1920, Funke 1922, Mustanoja 1960, Kerkhof 1966, Visser 1969 and Brinton 1981; 1983; 1988 amongst others), whereas investigations by Brinton (1981; 1988; 1996), Ogura (1997; 1998; 2013) and Sims (2008; 2014) address the divergence in the development of this verb and its variant in terms of grammaticalization, but with references to Middle English in general. Studies by Los (2000; 2005), on the other hand, deal with the grammaticalization of onginnan and beginnan with the plain infinitive in Ælfric’s works. However, no studies have been carried out on whether gan and can, as well as beginnen develop differently in terms of grammaticalization in the ‘English’ of the six northern counties of England and of Scotland in the late 14th and the 15th centuries, conventionally referred to as Northern Middle English and Early Scots, respectively. With the aid of Northern Middle English and Early Scots texts from computerised corpora (The Helsinki Corpus of English Texts, The Innsbruck Corpus of Middle English Prose and The Teaching Association for Medieval Studies, as well as The Helsinki Corpus of Older Scots and A Linguistic Atlas of Older Scots), this study looks into whether: a) gan and can, as well as beginnen differ with respect to their morphological paradigms, in view of what we know about grammaticalization and the development of invariant forms? b) these verbs differ with respect to their complements, in view of claims in the literature that the more grammaticalized variant takes the plain infinitive; and c) gan and can are a development from onginnan and aginnan, originally expressing ingression but shown in the literature to have undergone semantic bleaching in Old English and in early Middle English period? This study shows that in Northern Middle English and Early Scots, gan and can display characteristics of grammaticalization, while beginnen participates in global language changes affecting the category of the verb in ME and Scots.