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Lability in Old English Verbs: Chronological and Textual Distribution

  • Luisa García García EMAIL logo and Esaúl Ruiz Narbona
From the journal Anglia


Present-Day English has an unusually high number of labile verbs, such as melt or burn, both cross-linguistically and with respect to genetically related languages. Comparison among early Germanic languages has allowed researchers to detect an incipient favouring of labile coding already in Old English, where it is more frequent than in any other language of this group (Hermodsson 1952) and replaces causative coding in a considerable proportion of former causative verb pairs (van Gelderen 2011; García García 2020). This article attempts to map the chronological and textual distribution of labile verbs between the seventh and the eleventh centuries CE in order to explore how lability develops throughout the Old English period. Old English labile verbs coming from Germanic causative oppositions are the sample on which we base our study. The choice ensures that the verbs in question were originally not labile and underwent a process of labilization in (pre-)Old English. Some of the questions addressed in the study are: Can a tendency towards labilization in Old English be confirmed by internal evidence, as it arguably can by external comparison with other Germanic languages? Can an increase in lability be detected in English before French influence was effective? Does it show any restrictions by genre or individual text?

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Published Online: 2021-06-19
Published in Print: 2021-06-15

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