difference in form without difference in meaning

john at research.haifa.ac.il john at research.haifa.ac.il
Fri Aug 5 17:27:09 UTC 2011

Actually I thought of an example in present-day British English showing the same
stative/active distinction I was talking about. IIRC (I'm not a native speaker
myself), British speakers who still use the VS construction for main-verb
'have' if it's stative ('have you a book?' rather than 'do you have a book?')
would use the do-construction when 'have' is active ('did you have sex?' rather
than 'had you sex?').

What Tom write is definitely true. It's generally difficult to tell to what
extent the differences which appear in written language reflect differences in
the spoken language of the time (or for that matter any time). But in the case
of the rise of the do-construction, at least before about 1570 or so there
didn't seem to be any clear stylistic correlates of the choice between the
do-construction and the corresponding VS construction, that is, there was no
pattern of the do-construction being used less frequently in more formal
contexts in the data (and I did look for this)--if the change to the
do-construction had really taken place significantly earlier in the spoken
language, then we would have expected to find it used more frequently in less
formal contexts in the written language. Towards the end of the century,
though, as the VS construction go more and more rare (with the obvious
exception of the verbs which became the modal class and a few other verbs,
mostly stative, which took longer to 'switch over' ('know ye...?' was used a
lot for a long time)), it got to be more and more stylistically marked,
restricted to more formal contexts, and it stands to reason that by that time
the switch to the do-construction had largely been completed in the spoken
language--and at the same time and for the same reason, the meaning difference

Quoting Tom Givon <tgivon at uoregon.edu>:

> John did an excellent job in showing some of the complexities involved
> in the actual process of change. One possible implication is, perhaps,
> that such complexity can be captured in neither the Generative nor
> Varb-rule perspective. The cognitive implication outstrip the
> theoretical machinery of either of these "theories".
> Perhaps one thing to remember concerns the time-course issue: The
> data-base for the study of 16th Cent. English is, exclusively,written
> texts. That genre tends to be, sometimes, centuries behind the actual
> changes, which took place, almost exclusively, in the spoken language.
> Often, the low-frequency variants characteristic of the slow first part
> of the S-shaped curve are completely ignored in the written language,
> which tends to go with the higher-frequency (well-established) form, and
> thus appears to be "more generative". This gives a false impression of a
> much faster curve of , i.e., the middle portion of the SW-shaped curve.
> Lynn Yang & I made this observation when studying the rise of the
> GET-passive in English. It was nigh impossible to find examples in
> 19th-century writing--till we got to sampling Huck Finn, which is
> deliberately pitched toward the colloquial. All of a sudden, seemingly
> with no gradual prep time, the frequencies jumped up. Which suggested to
> us that the mature (tho still largely adversive) GET-passive
> construction may have been lurking around for a long time prior, perhaps
> centuries, in the spoken language . Cheers,  TG
> ============
> On 8/5/2011 2:25 AM, john at research.haifa.ac.il wrote:
> > A long time ago (early 1980s), together with Tony Kroch and Susan Pintzuk I
> did
> > a study of how 'do' came to be used as a question marker, a change which
> was
> > was for the most part started and completed in the course of the 16th
> century.
> > DURING the 16th century, there was a lot of variation between the older
> > VS question and the newer do-construction, the most significant factor
> being
> > whether the subject was a pronoun or noun, whether there was a direct
> object,
> > and if so, whether the direct object was a noun or pronoun. There was also
> a
> > clear tendency for the do-construction to become more common as the century
> > went on. But there was also an effect of the semantic type of the verb,
> with
> > the do-construction being associated with active verbs and the VS
> construction
> > associated with stative verbs. It was very difficult to say anything
> concrete
> > about this, because the variation was affected by so many non-semantic
> factors,
> > but in some sense at the time, to the extent that any difference in meaning
> > could be suggested, 'Did you see the bird?' would have implied that the
> subject
> > took some action to intentionally see the bird (like going to a place where
> the
> > bird was), whereas 'Saw you the bird?' would imply that the bird passed in
> > front of the subject's field of vision. It's difficult to get a parallel
> > difference in meaning in the present tense. Additionally, there was at the
> time
> > a strong tendency to use 'ye' as a clitic-like subject form, so that in
> general
> > 'See you the bird?' would have been disfavored because in involved a
> non-clitic
> > subject form intervening between the verb and the object. 'Saw ye the
> bird?'
> > would have been much more normal. And the semantic alternation would have
> been
> > clearest in the middle of the change, whereas earlier and later than this,
> > stylistic factors were more important--I would guess that there were no
> more
> > than two generations when there was something like a productive
> > semantically-based alternation.
> > John
> >
> >
> >
> > Quoting jess tauber<phonosemantics at earthlink.net>:
> >
> >> Hi folks. I'll admit at the outset that this isn't my area, but just on
> the
> >> face of it, to my sensibilities, the difference between 'Saw you the
> bird?'
> >> and 'Did you see the bird?' is one of directness and/or formality. The
> first
> >> seems to me more intimate, informal, less 'accusing' usage, at least for
> my
> >> modern English. Maybe easier to see with 'See (you) the bird?' vs. 'Do you
> >> see the bird?'. With 'do' the question seems (at least potentially) as
> much
> >> about the bird as my ability/willingness to see it, while without it
> perhaps
> >> its more about the speaker's needs. I know that in many instances
> pronominal
> >> paradigms have been reshaped to reflect unwillingness to appear
> >> confrontational in conversation. It would be interesting here from the
> >> typological perspective to know whether there is any linkage between
> >> constructional switching and the degree to and direction in which
> discourse
> >> has to be negotiated. More formality structurewise= more formality
> >> interrelationally? Languages with the least morphology more context
> sensitive
> >> and all that rubbish.
> >>
> >> Jess Tauber
> >> goldenratio at earthlink.net
> >>
> >
> >
> >
> > ------------------------------------------------------------------------
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