How do grammatical patterns emerge? The origins and development of the English proper noun modifier construction

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This paper studies the emergence of a grammatical pattern, the proper noun modifier construction shown in the Obama administration, an Edinburgh restaurant. The only dedicated historical corpus study by Rosenbach (2007, 2010) is limited in terms of time depth and data included, and suggests that only proper noun modifiers denoting places such as Edinburgh are found in the early 17th century. Using corpus data that span the full history of English, we trace the construction back to two Old English precursors, genitival modifiers without inflectional marking, e.g. Jericho feldes ‘the fields of Jericho’ and compounds, e.g. Easter æfen ‘Easter eve’. We combine macro-level visualisations of distributions and qualitative micro-analyses to show how these source constructions developed into the present-day English construction. The development defies simplistic views grammatical change, but illustrates that grammatical patterns develop out of multiple sources under the influence of a multiplicity of factors. New patterns only emerge gradually and exploit existing ambiguities in the language.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages31
JournalEnglish Language and Linguistics
Issue number3
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 1 Apr 2019