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HistLing Meeting: Bailey Doolittle on Middle English Syntax

Friday, November 9, 2012
12:00 AM
Lorch 403

Come learn more about Predicate nominals in Middle English

HistLing is honored to host Bailey Doolittle this week. Bailey is a recent undergraduate alum of MSU linguistics, and will present on the research that she did for her honors thesis. The title of her presentation, as well as an abstract follows below.

Predicate nominals in Middle English—A study in diachronic syntax

In Romance languages, German, and Dutch it is possible to say 'John is professor/doctor/lawyer', indicating that it was possible in Middle English (ME). In modern English, professions and other roles in predicate position must be preceded by the indefinite article 'a' except when the role is unique as in 'Obama is President'. In this paper we ask what is the status of NP predicates in ME (1150-1500). Do post-copular NPs require determiners in ME or not? When did the indefinite determiner start to be required? What changed in English grammar to require the use of the indefinite? The existence of linguistically parsed corpora available online makes much more efficient and reliable the otherwise time-consuming task of examining old manuscripts to track changes. In this paper we analyze texts from later eras in the East Midlands dialect of ME available in the Penn-Helsinki Parsed Corpus of ME and texts from the Penn-Helsinki Parsed Corpus of Early Modern English. Using Corpus Search to automatically extract all predicate nouns, we determine whether post-copular NP predicates were productive and whether they followed the same constraints as other Germanic and Romance Languages. We follow Munn & Schmitt's 2005 study of predicate nominals across various languages and we hypothesize that singular in previous stages of English did not require a determiner, but in modern English it does. Given that predicate nouns must have number (singular or plural), the indefinite is used to realize number.

Bailey Doolittle