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Why is there a Present-Day English absolute?

Abstract : Whereas the Present-day English (PDE) absolute construction has traditionally been labelled an infrequent, archaic and formal Latinism (Quirk et al. 1985: 1120), some recent studies have contested this view by claiming that the construction is still more productive than often thought (Kortmann 1991:2, König & van der Auwera 1990: 349). In addition, researchers have pointed out that cross-linguistically, English makes significantly more use of this construction than other Germanic languages (Kortmann 1995: 189-192). The reasons for this perceived discrepancy, however, are still largely unknown. It is the purpose of this article to verify the claim that absolute constructions in English differ substantially in their productivity and frequency from those in other Germanic languages by conducting a diachronic corpus-based comparison between English and Dutch. As it turns out, our data analysis confirms the existence of such a substantial difference. Second, the article will try to pinpoint why exactly this difference exists and will extrapolate these findings to include other Germanic languages such as German, Danish, Norse and Swedish with the aid of the already existing literature on the subject. It is suggested that two language-internal mechanisms form the basis of the differing frequency of absolutes in both language groups. First, the abundant use of ing-forms in English (e.g. gerunds, free adjuncts, progressives) is argued to support the continued existence of present participle absolutes syntagmatically through the mechanism of structural priming: i.e. given x in the preceding context, y is triggered (Loebell & Bock 2003; cf. Section 5.2). Second, the English absolute is supported paradigmatically by virtue of its dual connection to the rest of the language system through two types of functional and formal overlap: one with the gerund, and one with the prepositional postmodifier. In the other Germanic languages, only the latter type of overlap is present, meaning that they have less network links available than has English to support the construction's continued use. An additional, but arguably less crucial, factor is that of language external prescriptivism. Prescriptivism in English grammar never opposed the use of the absolute construction as vehemently or as consistently as happened in other Germanic languages. 2. The absolute construction Cross-linguistically the absolute construction can be identified as a non-finite construction, which always consists of two core elements: a (pro-)nominal subject and a predicate (Bauer 2000: 261). The predicate is typically a present (1) or past participle (2) but other possible predicate types include perfective participles, noun phrases, adjectival phrases, adverbial phrases, prepositional phrases and infinitives (Kortmann 1995: 195).
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van de Pol & Petré 2015, Why ...
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Nikki van de Pol, Peter Petré. Why is there a Present-Day English absolute?. Studies in Language, John Benjamins Publishing, 2015, 39 (1), pp.31. ⟨10.1075/sl.39.1.07pol⟩. ⟨halshs-01167210⟩



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