Article published in:Contact, Variation, and Change in the History of English
Edited by Simone E. Pfenninger, Olga Timofeeva, Anne-Christine Gardner, Alpo Honkapohja, Marianne Hundt and Daniel Schreier
[Studies in Language Companion Series 159] 2014
► pp. 61–82
The demise of a preterite-present verb
Why was unnan lost?
The group of Old English preterite-present verbs, originally comprising twelve items, was considerably reduced so that only six have survived to the present day. The present paper focuses on the fate of the verb unnan ‘grant’, with an attempt to account for its disappearance from the language. Because of its meaning, in Old English unnan was mainly employed in legal documents, especially wills. It was also attested in religious writings in the context of God. In Early Middle English, the lack of legal texts produced in the vernacular resulted in a considerable decrease in the verb frequency. In religious context unnan was still occasionally found, although the reference to God’s grants was more likely expressed with other verbs. Thus, the study shows that the drop in the frequency of unnan and its subsequent elimination was mainly due to the shortage of English legal texts and the competition with native synonyms.
Published online: 11 September 2014
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