Synchronic variation in the Old English perfect

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Abstract

In Old English, the present/past dichotomy of the Germanic verbal system was supplemented by the development of periphrastic forms such as the perfect and pluperfect. However, the inflected past tense continued to be used beside these newer forms to express similar temporal content. The research presented here aims to provide accurate quantitative data on the distribution within Old English texts both of the periphrastic forms and of semantically comparable preterites. Upon analysis, these data reveal a substantial degree of synchronic variation among Old English texts in their use of these grammatical categories, with no observable diachronic trends. The evidence does not suggest that this variation is grammatically motivated; it is hypothesised that the preterite and the periphrastic forms differed in their perceived stylistic value, although the exact details of such a difference may no longer be recoverable.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)319-343
Number of pages24
JournalTransactions of the Philological Society
Volume112
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jun 2013

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