A reexamination of the separable verb in selected Anglo-Saxon prose works

Hilliard, Robert L. (1971) A reexamination of the separable verb in selected Anglo-Saxon prose works. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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The systems of compounding verbs in Old English and German are analogous, but not every grammarian is agreed that Old English possessed a system of separable compound verbs. One authority, Joseph Wright, dismisses any need for discussing separable compounds in Old English on the grounds that they were merely juxtapositions of independent words, but others have shown that Old English did indeed possess such a system, notably T.P. Harrison, George Curme, and Murat Roberts. -- Three types of compound verbs can be distinguished in Old English: two groups which are inseparable and one which is separable. One of the inseparable groups is comprised of verbs or verb stems to which have been prefixed prepositions or decayed prepositions (a-, ge-, on-, mis-, etc.); the second inseparable type is formed with certain verbs to which nouns or adjectives have been added (nealæcan, efensorgian, etc.). The separable verb, so-called, is one which is used with an adverb or prepositional adverb (the term given to particles which function both as prepositions or as adverbs), but whose components are not always written together as one word. The adverbial particle may be found following the verb, for example, as in eode ōa in. -- This thesis re-examines the separable verb in Old English on a broader basis than some of the earlier studies. A considerable sampling of English prose has been made, much of it not translations of foreign sources, and the selections range from King Alfred’s Orosius through Wulfstan, Ælfric, and the late prose of the Peterborough Chronicle. -- Because stress in prose, whether spoken or read aloud, is difficult to ascertain, especially with the rather scanty legacy of Old English works, this linguistic aspect has been left to one side except for a brief mention of how it might have influenced the separation of verb and particles. Most authorities are agreed that the separable compound verb took the stress on the particle; the inseparable verb, on the verb base or stem. Separation or lack of it also affected the meaning of the verb as will be seen. -- In addition to the difficulty of determining stress in Old English prose, another problem met with is ambiguous or dubious syntax. Frequent examples of word order in which an objective pronoun is followed by a prepositional form and then a verb, allow two-fold interpretations. One can interpret the sequence as that of a prepositional phrase with the preposition placed after its object, or one may regard the structure as that of a compound verb with the pronoun object in the particular case required by usage. The ambiguity can sometimes be resolved by comparison to clear-cut illustrations in other areas of Old English; sometimes, analogous patterns and syntax in Old High German point to a compound verb; frequently, however, no definitive analysis can be made. -- Generally, compound verbs are formed with adverbs of place. This was the rule in Old High German and still is in present-day German; examination of representative texts in Old English prose shows a similar tendency for adverbs of place to form verbal combinations. Not every adverb of place formed a compound or combination, however, and adverbs in -an proved to be the least productive of such types. -- Unlike Modern English, Old English combinations of adverbial particle and verb tended to remain literal in meaning, but the frequency with which verb and particle occurred together points to real combinations or sense-units. -- Many of the prepositional adverbs are traditionally considered to form only inseparable compounds, but several instances were observed of both separable and inseparable usage for the same combination of verb and particle. -- Ofslean, for example, was used in both ways: separated, it means 'strike off, 'cut off; as an inseparable verb, 'kill'. Though not prefixed with a prepositional adverb, the Verb forōfaran also showed the same differentiation between a literal meaning when the verb and particle were separate and a figurative meaning when inseparable. According to the evidence of the corpus, the system in Old English was not as regular as it is in present-day German, but the basis of the principle of separation or lack of separation with consequent differences in literal and figurative meanings can clearly be seen. -- The following conclusions can be drawn: based on the frequency of occurrence and spread of usage among authors and by virtue of noun compounds composed of parallel verb-adverb combinations, adverbial particles often formed sense-units with the verb in close enough syntactical relationship to be considered true compounds or verb-adverb combinations. Prepositional adverbs formed obvious compounds, for the most part, but a large number of ambiguous cases must remain unresolved in classification either as prepositional constructions or as compound verbs. However, on the basis of comparison with Old High German, compound verbs in Old English may be more numerous than some grammarians have hitherto considered.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/7020
Item ID: 7020
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves [161]-167.
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > English Language and Literature
Date: 1971
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: English language--Old English, ca. 450-1100--Verb

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