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The basic valency orientation of Old English and the causative ja-formation: a synchronic and diachronic approach

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 March 2019

Departamento de Lengua Inglesa – Facultad de Filología, Universidad de Sevilla, University of Seville, C/ Palos de la Frontera, s/n. 41004Sevilla,


The basic valency orientation of Old English has been addressed in a number of studies, without any consensus emerging so far. From a synchronic point of view, a key question is whether the pronounced tendency to labile coding in Present-day English can be traced back to the Old English period. In order to give a convincing answer, this article examines from a synchronic and diachronic point of view two of the procedures by which the basic valency of Old English has been assessed: computation of verbs and evaluation of the causative ja-formation. Concerning the former, it shows that the valency of whole verb classes in Old English is determined by previous processes of morphophonetic merger and cannot therefore be used as evidence for labilisation processes (transitivisation or detransitivation) taking place in OE itself. With respect to the latter, the article assesses whether the causative ja-formation is still a transitivising operation in Old English by examining the valency of all causative ja-pairs and incorporating recent research on the effectiveness of sound alternations as morphological markers. This article concludes that it is not, as it does not consistently signal an increase in valency. Rather, a tendency to labile coding is detected. In this respect, the article supports, with more conclusive evidence, previous research which advanced the same hypothesis.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2019

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I would like to thank the editor of the journal and the anonymous reviewers for their useful comments on previous versions of the article. Special thanks to Christopher Langmuir for improving the manuscript’s English. The research for this article has been funded by the Spanish Ministry of Education (project FFI2017-83360-P) and the University of Seville (Plan Propio de Ayuda a la Investigación 2016).


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