Article

Change in the English infinitival perfect construction

Jill Bowie and Bas Aarts

in The Oxford Handbook of the History of English

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780199922765
Published online November 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199922765.013.0019

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

 Change in the English infinitival perfect construction

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  • Linguistics
  • Historical and Diachronic Linguistics
  • Grammar, Syntax and Morphology

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This article explores recent grammatical change in the English perfect construction, with special focus on the infinitival perfect. Previous studies have typically drawn on written data, whereas this study reports on spoken data drawn from the Diachronic Corpus of Present-Day Spoken English, based at the Survey of English Usage, University College London. This is a parsed corpus of British English which includes a wide range of spoken genres and spans the period from the 1960s to the 1990s. First, the article compares the main inflectional subtypes of the perfect (present, past and infinitival) in terms of changing frequencies of use. Significant declines in frequency (measured per million words) are reported for the past perfect and infinitival perfect, while the present perfect appears stable. Next, the article focuses on the behaviour of the infinitival perfect in different grammatical contexts, showing that its decline within the context of a preceding modal auxiliary is independent of the declining frequency of modal auxiliaries themselves. The study shows the importance of considering changes in a linguistic category like the perfect in relation to its interaction with other categories such as morphological tense and modality.

Keywords: grammatical change; recent change; Diachronic Corpus of Present-Day Spoken English; Survey of English Usage; University College London; British English; perfect construction; infinitival perfect construction; spoken English; linguistics

Article.  4244 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Historical and Diachronic Linguistics ; Grammar, Syntax and Morphology

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