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Accessible Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter 2019

Constructional change across the lifespan: The nominative and infinitive in early modern writers

Lynn Anthonissen


This paper presents one of the first attempts at exploring whether constructional change of syntactic constructions is possible within the adult lifespan of individual speakers. It does so by zooming in on diachronic changes in passives of the type He is said to be a thief, a construction known as the nominative and infinitive (NCI). Two main usage types are discerned: the evidential NCI (He is said to be a sinner) and the modalized NCI (He may be said to be a sinner). Exploring the writings of four early modern authors, the study demonstrates that the proportions of these usage types shift during the lifetimes of all investigated authors, with informants showing linear trends that persist into old age. The general increase in evidential uses is argued to reflect the construction’s growing emancipation from the passive construction and its increasing specialization into a reportative evidential marker.

© 2019 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Munich/Boston