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Ditransitives in Middle English: on semantic specialisation and the rise of the dative alternation 1


This article discusses the plausibility of a correlation or even a causal relation between two phenomena that can be observed in the history of English ditransitives. The changes concerned are: first, the emergence of the ‘dative alternation’, i.e. the establishment of a link between the double object construction (DOC) and its prepositional paraphrase, and second, a reduction in the range of verb classes associated with the DOC, with the construction's semantics becoming specialised to basic transfer senses. Empirically, the article is based on a quantitative analysis of the occurrences of the DOC as well as its prepositional competitors in the Penn–Helsinki Parsed Corpus of Middle English, 2nd edition (PPCME2). On the basis of these results, it will be argued that the semantic narrowing and the increasing ability of ditransitive verbs to be paraphrased by a to-prepositional construction (to-POC) interacted in a bi-directional causal manner.

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The author is grateful to Nikolaus Ritt and the NatSide-Team at the University of Vienna for helpful comments; furthermore, I would like to thank Timothy Colleman and Ludovic De Cuypere for valuable discussions on the issue.

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