Лінгвістичні студії: Збірник наукових праць.

Viktoria Albert — ABSOLUTE INFINITIVE CONSTRUCTION AND ITS WORD ORDER PATTERNS IN MIDDLE ENGLISH

Стаття присвячена дослідженню функціонування маркованого та немаркованого порядку слів у
поширених та непоширених структурних типах і моделях абсолютної інфінітивної конструкції у мові
середньоанглійського періоду (XII – XV сторіччя). У цій статті розглядається функціонування різних типів
порядку слів у мові давньоанглійського періоду, а також остаточне закріплення порядку ―суб‘єкт-дієслово-
об‘єкт‖ у середньоанглійському простому реченні.
Ключові слова: абсолютна інфінітивна конструкція (АІК), маркований та немаркований порядок слів,
структурні типи та моделі, непоширені та поширені типи АІК.

The recent decades of the past and present century are characterized by a considerable attention to sentence study
in both synchronic and diachronic aspects, such as the reconstruction of Proto-Indo-European sentence, the basic word
order models, typology of syntactical structures, mechanisms of grammatical changes and syntactic universals
[Danchev 1991, Harris 2008, Kiparsky 2008, Kroch 2000, Roberts 2007].
The article aims to present an overview of the word order patterns of the extended and non-extended structural
types of absolute infinitive construction (AIC) in Middle English period (12-15th centuries), and to deal with the extra-
linguistic factors that influenced the structure and further spread of AICs in Middle English texts.
In the first place it is necessary to define the term “absolute infinitive construction”. It is assumed that AIC
consists either of a single infinitive (to wit, to conclude, to tell, to start) or a combination of an infinitive with one or
more adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, nouns, which perform the function of infinitive complements (to speak frankly, to
speak white truth, to confess the truth to you). This construction cannot function as an independent speech unit. It
expresses the speaker‟s attitude towards the information and as a result it modifies the semantics of the whole sentence.
AIC is characterized by peculiar phonetic and punctuation organization, which creates its syntactic isolation within the
sentence.
In the present research I. Raspopov‟s [1962: 198-202] definition of the term “construction” is taken as a starting
point and is regarded as a combination of words built according to the laws of the definite language that can be
expanded into a sentence.
This interpretation of the construction is relevant for AIC, as it can also be converted into a sentence. Moreover,
the AIC developed out from the Old English simple finite sentence, for instance, secge ic Юe to soрe [Beowulf: 590] –
“for I say in sooth”, but in Middle English a similar AIC is used without explicitly available subject and hence it is
represented by means of a reduced clause: Юe soth to tell [Cursor Mundi: 143]. The latter implies that the surface and
underlying forms of AIC are not identical. In the underlying structure AIC has subject-verb relations: I want to tell the
truth or I tell the truth, while on the surface structure level it has a zero representation of subject (or latent subject,
PRO-form) in terms of N. Chomsky‟s Government and Binding Theory [1993].
In historical studies there exist different opinions as to the main word order in Old English [Bech 1998, Danchev
1991, Roberts 2007]. The Old English language could allow certain flexibility and independence of sentence
constituents due to the well-developed system of inflectional elements. Some linguists claim that there were several
word orders [Andrew 1966, Kroch 2000], which means that the subject (S), verb (V), and object (O) could be
distributed according to several word-order patterns. Though there is another point of view according to which the Old
English possessed mainly a logical word order with the verb being in the final position (OV) [Леманн: 361-362].
However, nobody doubts the fact that the word order of the Old English sentence was not “free” and its constituents did
not occur in a random order. On the contrary, several patterns of word order co-existed where all elements were
organized. The same types of word order were used in Middle English as well, namely: (a) verb in a final position with
the object in preposition (verb-final with OV), (b) verb in medial position with the object in preposition (verb-medial
with OV), (c) verb in medial position with the object in postposition (verb-medial with VO), (d) verb in initial position
with the object in postposition (verb-initial with VO). It means that the subject, verb and object occupied the following
positions: SVO (he takez hys leve ―he takes his leave‖), SOV (I hym folwed ―I followed him‖), VSO (Gaf ye the chyld
any thyng? ―Did you give anything to the child?‖), VOS (Thus taughte me my dame ―Thus my mother taught me‖),
OSV (al юou most sugge ―you must say everything‖) and OVS (but hood wered he noon ―but he wore no hood‖)
[Hladkэ: 210].
© Альберт В.І., 2009 ЛІНГВІСТИЧНІ СТУДІЇ. Випуск 19

64
The SVO, which started to develop already in Old English, was the usual, normal order in positive affirmative
independent clauses and overtime became standard for the Present-Day English. A departure from SVO produced a
marked effect. Throughout its history the English language has been constantly drifting from SOV to SVO. In this sense
Middle English represents the period in which the word order was in transition from one type to the other [Roberts:
177]. In late Middle English the practice of placing the verb at the end of a subordinate clause was abandoned as well as
the SOV order.
The stabilization of word order was a slow process and only in the 18th century it was based on the same
principles as it is in Modern English. The fixation of word order proceeded together with the reduction or eventual loss
of inflectional endings; English becoming mainly an analytic language, the word order played a significant role. The
percentage of clauses with the SVO order is estimated to be 16% in Old English poetry, 40% in Old English prose, 86%
in Shakespeare‟s poetry and 93% in his prose, reaching 99 % in B. Shaw‟s prose [Hladkэ: 210].
Therefore, the SVO word order in Middle English was regularized according to the general laws of the language
development, namely its grammatical structure. The importance of the word order in Middle English, as a means of
expression the syntactic relations, considerably grew, but still was not as essential as in Early New English period.
The process of fixing the SVO word order pattern in AIC was strengthened and accelerated by the loss of
inflections in Middle English. That is why AICs present an interesting issue from the point of view of its word order
patterns in Middle English, which definitely differ from the word order in Present-Day English.
In general, the frequency of usage of this or that word order pattern depends upon the discourse style. That
explains why some historians of the English language stated the dominance of SOV over SVO on the basis of Old
English poetic monuments. Since Middle English is a transitional language between present-day English and Old
English, it is not surprising that some older constructions of the SOV-type are still found and such practices are plainly
useful when the poet wishes to sustain the rhyme [Horobin: 100].
Structurally, the AIC splits into extended and non-extended types, which in their turn are divided into several
subtypes. Non-extended AICs consist of one or two parts: either of a single infinitive or of an infinitive and a nominal
(or adjectival, or adverbial) constituent, which is a dependent element. The infinitival complements are obligatory and
important for the realization of the potential valence of the non-finite verbal phrase.
In this research the following three subtypes of non-extended AICs have been singled out: object, adjectival and
adverbial. They demonstrate both the SVO and the SOV orders. The first subtype (see Table 1) manifests the SVO word
order (models 1-3), where the infinitive occupies the initial position, and its complement (object, adjective or adverb) –
the final position. In case an infinitival complement is expressed by an adverbial phrase, we obtain the Vinf+A, where
the adverbial element usually expresses various meanings of purpose, manner of action, etc. If there is a nominal
element (noun, pronoun), which syntactically functions as the object of the construction, then it is the object type –
Vinf+O. The third model is the adjectival (to be brief, to be more precise, to be frank), and it is used with the existential
verb to be. Adjectives are limited in their distribution; whenever there is the infinitive to be, so there must be an
adjective, which together form the adjectival AIC – Vinf+Adj.
The second subtype is presented by the SOV sentence pattern (models 4-6), where the infinitive occupies the
final position, and the dependent constituents are found on the left that is in the initial position. These constructions in
their turn are also subdivided into three models: object (O+Vinf), adverbial (A+Vinf) and adjectival (Adj+Vinf).

Table 1.
The position of the infinitive in the non-extended types of AIC in Middle English

Types Examples
1. Vinf+О to neuen Юe soЮe [Visser: 1050] – ―to know the truth‖
2. Vinf+A to speke generally [Chaucer: 528] – ―to speak generally‖
3. Vinf+Adj to be fair [Langland: 235] – “to be fair‖
4. O+Vinf sooth to telle [Chaucer: 110] – ―the truth to tell‖
5. A+Vinf shortly to seye [Chaucer: 156] – ―to say shortly‖
6. Adj+Vinf wonderfull to neuen [Play: 186] – ―wonderful to know‖

The typical word order of the non-extended types is SOV, where the infinitive is in the final position with the
adverbial or the nominal element in the initial position. According to the analysed data the non-extended constructions
with the SOV order are more frequently used in Middle English texts: 323 (74%) times out of 646, which is the total Розділ ІІІ. Теоретичні питання синтаксису

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number of both non-extended and extended models. These AICs are distributed in the following way: O+Vinf – 178
(28%); A+Vinf – 141 (22%) and Adj+Vinf – 4 (0,6%). Constructions that reflect the SVO word order are less numerous
and consist of Vinf+O, which is used 80 times (12,4%), Vinf+A – 27 (4%) and finally, the Vinf+Adj – 4 times (0,6%). The
examples confirm that in the Middle English texts of the 12-15th centuries the reversed SOV order within AICs
prevailed. The proportion of SOV and SVO orders is referred to as 323 (74%) and 111 (26%).
In the SOV constructions the pragmatic aspect seems rather acceptable because in conditions of significant
divergence of syntactic models of oral and written speech the rhetorical means were more powerful than logico-
grammatical means [Буніятова: 141]. The initial position of adverbial, adjectival or nominal elements is regarded as
marked and it is the initial position that carries the logical stress. The adverbial constituents usually occur after the verb
but in Middle English it was quite frequent to use not just adverbs in the initial position but entire phrases or clauses.
In the examples taken form G. Chaucer, it is seen how the poet vigorously took advantage of the flexibility of
standard word order (SVO or SVA) and changed it to achieve a certain rhetorical effect (ASV): out of the chambre he
wente [Chaucer: 390] or another: And gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche [Chaucer: 310] – ―And gladly would he
learn and gladly teach‖. Such inversion is a stylistic device and aims at emphasising certain important elements in a
sentence. It is considered that the OV pattern is a dominant one, and it is characterized by a greater degree of usage.
However, it does not mean at all that this word order was obligatory or fundamental for the AIC.
Any grammatical change of word order in a sentence gives a marked pattern. Such changes are not free as they
perform certain functions. Marked structures have certain meanings and are opposed to unmarked (or neutral)
structures. Unmarked models have neither additional connotations, nor emotional colouring. In case a speaker wants to
express his emotions, he uses a marked sentence pattern, which can be found in poetry or elevated prose style.
Consequently, the statement about the marked word order is considered to be appropriate for the analysed Middle
English texts the majority of which were mainly poetical texts, and this feature makes them very interesting and special
in terms of word order variability.
The expressiveness of the absolute constructions is achieved not only by means of a careful selection of words
but also by means of their certain emphatic arrangement (or topicalization). Hence any sentence or AIC with the
identical communicative meaning can be presented in two different ways, which will differ in degree of their force of
utterance, as different emphatic word orders possess different level of expression. This is illustrated in G.Chaucer‟s
Canterbury Tales:
So wel they lovede, as olde bookes sayn, | That whan that oon was deed, soothly to telle, | His felawe wente and
soughte hym doun in helle, – | But of that story list me nat to write [Chaucer, 340] – ―So well each loved the other, old
books say, | That when one died, the truth to tell, | The other went and sought him down in Hell; | But of that tale I have
no wish to write‖.
In the construction soothly to telle (A+ Vinf) the adverb topicalization is observed. The adverb soothly is placed
before verb phrase expressed by the infinitive to telle. According to the laws of grammatical constituents, the adverbial
complement is restricted in its position according to which it is frequently used after that constituent to which it
belongs. The given AIC is demonstrated by means of labelled bracketing (a) and by means of a tree-diagram (b) below.
(a) [S[NP[PRO][VP[AP[A soothly][VP′[Vinf to telle]]]]]
(
b)

When the adverbial constituent occupies the initial position, the AIC becomes marked and hence acquires special
connotations of emotiveness and expressiveness.
The structure of the extended types is rather diverse and that is why the notion of “stereotypy” is not to be
applied when describing them (see Table 2). The extended absolute constructions are more voluminous because they
consist of several elements and hence they are more informative than the non-extended ones. In these AICs the
infinitive can be found in the following three positions: initial, medial, and final. Therefore, the object (VOO), adverbial
(VAA, AVA), object-adverbial (VOA, VAO, AVO, OVA, AOV, and OAV) and object-adjectival (VAdjO, AdjVO and
AdjOV) subtypes of AICs are distinguished. The object-adverbial and object-adjectival subtypes are of combined
complementation, which means that they are quite variable, both structurally and semantically. Constructions (1-5) ЛІНГВІСТИЧНІ СТУДІЇ. Випуск 19

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demonstrate word order with the infinitive in the initial position, while (6-9) – the medial and (10-12) – the final
position.
Table 2.
The position of the infinitive in the extended types of AIC in Middle English
Types Examples
1. Vinf+O+O To telle yow al the descripcioun [Chaucer: 77] – ―to tell you all the description‖
2. Vinf+O+A To speken of a servant properly [Chaucer: 102] – ―to speak of a servant properly‖
3. Vinf+A+O To speak more of the name [Langland: 235] – ―to speak more of the name‖
4. Vinf+A+A To speken short and pleyn [Chaucer: 32] – ―to speak shortly and plainly‖
5. Vinf+Adj+O To be plain to yowe [Paston: 480] – ―to be plain to you‖
6. A+Vinf+A Shortly for to tellen at o word [Chaucer: 259] – ―to tell it shortly at a word‖
7. A+Vinf+O For shortly for to tellen at o word [Chaucer: 135] – ―to tell shortly in one word‖
8. O+Vinf+A Soothe forto telle platly [Gower: 8180] – ―to tell the truth plainly‖
9. Adj+Vinf+O The yemer to tellen trouthe [Merlin: 270] – ―to tell the sad truth‖
10.A+O+Vinf Shortly of this matiere forto pace [Chaucer: 128] – ―to pace this matter shortly‖
11.O+A+Vinf To the poynt right for to go [Visser: 1051] – ―to get right to the point‖
12.Adj+O+Vinf Schort tale forto telle [Gower: 55358] – ―to tell a short tale‖

The above-mentioned examples show that the infinitive occurs in three positions; nevertheless, SVO pattern is
more typical of the extended AICs, where the infinitive is likely to occupy the initial position, which is regarded as
unmarked word order. The constructions with the infinitive in the initial position belong to the dominant subtype as
their constituents are better organized, their stylistic colouring is comparatively more neutral, and they are more
frequently used in Middle English texts (i.e. 110 times, which constitutes 74%). On the contrary, models with the
infinitive in the medial and final positions appear 20 times (14%) and 18 (12%) correspondingly. In general, the extended
types have more possibilities in organizing their constituents. Topicalization is observed when the adjectival or any
other adverbial or nominal element opens AIC. This process takes place in two cases: (a) when the infinitive is situated
in the medial position, or (b) when the infinitive is in the final position in AIC. For example,
ME: To the poynt right for to go [Visser: 1051-1052] – “to get right to the point‖.
[S[NP[PRO][VP[PP[P][Det][N][AP[A][VP′[P][Vinf]]]]]]]]

This example demonstrates topicalization on the surface structure level. In the initial position there is the
prepositional phrase (PP) to the point, which performs the object function in AIC; the second is the adverbial phrase
(AP) right with the infinitive for to go in the final. The marked word order as well as the word order of some non-
extended AICs as in OVinf: Юe soth to tell [Cursor Mundi: 143] and AVinf: shortly to seye [Chaucer: 435] not only
accentuates a certain element, but it also causes a partial desemantisation of the main constituent explicated by a verbal Розділ ІІІ. Теоретичні питання синтаксису

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lexeme. Such position has quite a different purpose, namely, to emphasize the initial constituent (Adj, A, O), which stands
before the infinitive. It is also important to note that SVO word order change cannot be infinite or conventional; it has to
respond to the laws of the language.
To summarize the data that have been analysed so far, it can be said that during the Middle English period, the
enlargement of the AIC‟s paradigm was recorded due to the new structural models that appeared in both of its types –
extended and non-extended. The word order patterns in AICs gradually reduced to a limited number of patterns. In the
non-extended types the infinitive occupies two positions: either (а) verb-initial or (b) verb-final. This type is rather
stereotypical because it has a definite scheme according to which new constructions are formed. The usage of extended
constructions is not as frequent as that of the non-extended ones (498 – 77,6%) for it was observed only 148 times
(22,4%). In addition, the extended constructions are characterized by a greater degree of positional mobility of the
infinitive, which is explained through pragmatic purposes, and can be found in three positions: (a) verb-initial, (b) verb-
final and (c) verb-medial. Consequently, types with the infinitive in the initial position are regarded as more common for
the Middle English language, which developed from SOV- to SVO-language.

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The present article deals with the research of marked and unmarked word order functioning in the extended and
non-extended structural types and models of the absolute infinitive construction in the Middle English language (12- ЛІНГВІСТИЧНІ СТУДІЇ. Випуск 19

68
15th centuries). In this regard the coexistence of various word order patterns in Old English as well as the fixing of SVO
word order in the Middle English simple sentence are analysed.
Key words: absolute infinitive construction (AIC), marked and unmarked word order, structural types and
models, non-extended and extended AIC.

Надійшла до редакції 20 жовтня 2008 року.

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