Yoko Iyeiri (2010), Verbs of Implicit Negation and their
Complements in the History of English. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. Hb edition 2010. xv + 223 pages.
Received October 2010, published December 2011
verb complementation has received a great deal of attention in both
synchronic and diachronic studies. Synchronic studies often discuss
differences in verb complementation patterns between British and American
English (e.g. Mair 2002; Hommerberg
and Tottie 2007). Diachronic studies tend to look
at one or more of the shifts in verb complementation patterns, such as the
decline of that-clauses, which
has been brought into connection with the decline of the subjunctive (e.g.
Los 2005; Fischer and van der Wurff
2006; van Gelderen 2006). There are also
diachronic studies which comment on the rise of gerunds, a slightly later
development than the rise of to-infinitives
at the expense of that-clauses
(see e.g. Blake 1996; Fanego 1996). Fischer and
van der Wurff (2006:
177) note that -ing
complements date back to Middle English, although the construction was not
yet frequent at this time. Also, they note that “the rise of -ing-complements
follows a path of lexical diffusion, with verbs of negative import such as avoid, escape and forbear
leading the way” (Fischer and van der Wurff 2006: 177). Such verbs belong to a group of
control (and/or raising) verbs, whose treatment
has been (and still is) a topic of much debate in generative theoretical
linguistics (see e.g. Davies and Dubinsky 2004). It is verbs like these
that are the focus of Iyeiri’s historical study,
which investigates the syntactic development of eleven “verbs of implicit
negation”, as Iyeiri calls them: forbid, refuse, forbear, avoid, prohibit, prevent, hinder, refrain, fear, doubt and deny. In particular, the study examines to what extent these
verbs have undergone the two complement shifts already mentioned: the first
one being the shift from that-clauses
to to-infinitives in later Middle
English (1350–1500) and early Modern English (1500–1710), the second one
being the shift from to-infinitives
to gerunds in later Modern English (1710–).
of Iyeiri’s data are collected from “the entire
dataset of the quotations in the second edition of The Oxford English Dictionary on CD-ROM (OED)”. According to Hoffmann (2004: 17), one of the advantages
of using the OED as a tool for
linguistic research is that its database of quotations “is considerably
larger” than historical corpora such as the Helsinki Corpus of English Texts, ARCHER (A Representative Corpus of Historical English Registers) and
the Corpus of Early English
Correspondence (CEEC) (see also Mair 2004). However, there are also drawbacks to using
the OED as a linguistic corpus
(see e.g. Hoffmann 2004), and Iyeiri repeatedly
points out that using the OED as
a linguistic corpus should be done with great care, as it is not intended
to fulfill this function: it is a historical dictionary. More on this
eleven verbs examined by Iyeiri can be subdivided
into four groups according to the type of development they show. The first
group contains the verbs forbid
and refuse, which have undergone
the second complement shift (from to-infinitive
to gerund) only partly. That-complements
continue to occur with forbid,
but only in the fossilised phrase ‘God forbid
that ...’. In the second group are the verbs forbear and avoid, which have undergone a significant rise in gerunds (the
second complement shift). In the case of avoid, Iyeiri notes the role of the
horror aequi-principle: avoiding V-ing was circumvented in favour of infinitival complements, which “affected the
timing of the historical development of the –ing form” (Iyeiri
2010: 74). The third group contains the verbs prohibit, prevent, hinder and refrain, which have undergone both shifts, but the first shift
is not always clearly visible due to the paucity of data. Moreover, the
verbs in this group occur in another pattern, where they are followed by
the preposition from + gerund.
While grammars often treat these together with gerunds without
prepositions, Iyeiri considers this pattern to be
“a further developed stage of gerundial constructions” (Iyeiri
2010: 85). She also shows that the shifts in the gerundial complementation
patterns prevent/hinder +
possessive + -ing
and prevent/hinder + object + -ing
differ depending on “whether the semantic subject of the complement is a
personal pronoun or not” (Iyeiri 2010: 111–2).
The fourth group consists of the verbs fear,
doubt and deny, which show a slightly different development than the
verbs in the other groups: they develop a parenthetical use (I fear, I doubt), by which they lose their matrix status.
Interestingly, the development of the parenthetical use is noted in
affirmative sentences only.
noted above, most of Iyeiri’s historical data is
from the quotation database of the OED.
In her introduction, Iyeiri states that “it was
one of my central aims to test the usability of the OED as a historical corpus when I embarked upon the present
project” (Iyeiri 2010: 20) and her study has left
her “fully convinced” of its use as a historical corpus. Indeed, the OED has recently received several
appraisals as a linguistic corpus (e.g. Hoffmann 2004; Mair
2001, 2004), which at the same time also point out some obvious drawbacks.
Although Iyeiri is clearly aware of these (she
repeatedly points out that using the OED
as a linguistic corpus should be done with great care), I would like to
comment on how she handles and interprets most of her OED data. The majority of the data figures she presents for the
eleven verbs of implicit negation provide raw frequencies, and only a small
number of figures provide the raw frequency of verb complementation
patterns to occurrences per 10,000 quotations. While she indicates several
times that the raw frequencies of complementation patterns in different
centuries should not be compared “since the number of quotations per
century is not constant” (Iyeiri 2010: 94), she
nevertheless seems to do so. Although the patterns of development observed
by Iyeiri undoubtedly provide a good general
picture, her study would have benefited from a normalisation
procedure of the data.
said this, Iyeiri’s study offers more insight
into the development of the complementation patterns of eleven verbs of
implicit negation, by providing a wealth of empirical information drawn
from the OED, thereby validating
its usefulness as a linguistic corpus.
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