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Grammaticalization in early English. (Linguistics).

1. Definition and aim

Grammaticalisation was first defined by Antoine Meillet in 1912 as "the shift of an independent word to the status of a grammatical element", a process sometimes described as desemanticization (for criticism, cf. Traugott -- Heine 1991: 4). In terms of classification into parts of speech the change may involve transfer from "major lexical categories" to "minor, grammatical categories", so that nouns, verbs and adjectives may become adverbs, auxiliaries, and prepositions (cf. McMahon 1994: 160).

According to a recent definition, grammaticalization is:

(1) ... the process whereby the lexical items and constructions come in certain linguistic contexts to serve grammatical functions, and, once grammaticalized, continue to develop new grammatical functions (Hopper - Traugott 1993: xv).

However, the significance of grammaticalization in the study of linguistic change goes far beyond the scope of the above definitions. The process appears to reflect the evolution in human speech from a sequence of purely lexical items, originally denoting concrete objects, through the shift of the lexical component to grammatical, which culminates in the rise of a string of lexical and grammatical words. The subsequent stages may involve cliticization, i.e. attachment of a grammaticalized item to a content word, and its fusion with the modified stem, ultimately resulting in the transformation of the original free word into an affix and, at the most advanced stage, an inflectional marker.

The above sequence of events can be schematically presented as a chain development like the following:

(2) content item > grammatical word > clitic > inflectional affix (Hopper -- Traugott 1993: 7)

The present attempt at identifying different paths along which grammaticalization operates makes use of the evidence from the history of English. Its aim is to verify whether more advanced forms of grammaticalized words belong to later periods and to establish to what extent such advanced forms coexist in a language with the less grammaticalized forms. Since the two items examined are the adjective full (< PGmc *full-az) and the intensifier very (< OF verrai 'true'), yet another aim of the present contribution is to determine the causal connection between the decline of the auxiliary function of full as intensifier and the development of an analogous function of very, originally an adjective. The citations are selected from the Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edition).

2. The adjective full

CGmc *full-a- (IE *pl-n-o-) belongs to the most frequent stems in Germanic languages. Its original sense 'full, complete, containing abundance of' is evident from the early citations (c. 1000) adduced in the OED, like the one below,

(3) Hatep donne heahcyning helle betynan, fyres fulle (Sal. & Sat. 174 (Gr.))

which contains a typical nominal phrase fyres fulle (gen.) 'full of fire'.

The fates of that adjective best illustrate the evolution of a content word which undergoes grammaticalization. For instance, a "dine of lexicality", where "dine" is "a natural pathway along which forms evolve", can be exemplified as the following string:

(4) a basket full (of eggs ...) > a cupful (of water) > hopeful (Hopper -- Traugott 1993: 7)

It should be noted that items in (4) represent the same, evidently synchronic, plane since all the three forms coexist in contemporary English. But, curiously, Hopper and Traugott ignore the stage of a shift in the sense of full from adjectival to adverbial and the rise of the new intensifier, like in the phrases ful gode 'very good', ful rice 'very powerful', etc., where ful continues to be preposed with respect to the noun modified.

Evidently, when subject to a diachronic overview the semantic evolution of full goes even through more complex stages than the sequence (4) suggests. Adequately documented in English mediaeval literature, such stages are expected to represent a hypothetical, chronologically arranged string of changes from a minimal to a maximal degree of grammaticalization; cf.:

(5) (a) (mup) full waetres > ([b.sup.1]) ful(l) gode 'very (good)' [parallel]

> ([b.sup.2]) mouthfull > ([approximately equal to] full mouth) > (c) mouthful >

(d) useful [ful] ([not equal to] full of use) > (e) useful [f(e)l]

The above pattern reveals two sequences of changes, the first, where the adjective full acquires as early as Old English the function of an intensifier (5a > b) after which the process discontinues (here symbolised by "[parallel]"), and the other, also initiated in Old English, where grammaticalisation transforms the relevant structures, ultimately yielding current forms such as useful, wonderful, etc. (5a > [b.sup.2] > c > d > e). Characteristically, the series of changes affecting the meaning of the original adjective full occur on three levels: syntactic, involving a shift in the position of full from preposed with reference to the item modified (5a > b) to postposed (5 [b.sup.2]-e), morphological (transformation of ful(l) into a suffix; 5 [b.sup.2]), and graphemic/phonological (simplification of double <ll> and reduction of the full vowel [u] to [e/-]; 5d > e).

In order to determine whether historical evidence confirms the ordering in (5), below are adduced samples of the early occurrence of forms representing the above stages. The original sense of full is evident from (6a) below:

(6a) c1000 Sele ponne caelic fulne to drincanne (Sax. Leechd. II. 268)

with the phrase caelic fulne (acc.) 'a full cup'. This earliest sense of full, i.e. 'complete', has survived until our days. More interesting are instances where the literal meaning of the adjective became abstract, as in the following quotation from the 10th century:

(6b) 972 ... paet he beo... min fulla freo[n]d & forespreca. (Will of AElfloed in Birch Cartul. Sax. III. 603)

where fulla stands metaphorically for 'trusty, thorough'.

The first grammaticalized forms of full in the function of an intensifier, spelt with either double or single <1>, seem to have emerged in a very early period of English. This development is termed "divergence". It is a process

(7) ... whereby a less grammatical form may split into two, one variant maintaining its former characteristics, the other becoming more grammatical (Hopper -- Traugott 1993: 113).

The early instances of divergence so understood belong to Old English. For instance, King Alfred's translation of Boethius contains the following two sentences, the first with a single occurrence, the second with three occurrences of ful(l), all functioning as intensifiers; cf.:

(8) c. 888 pa men pe habbap unhale eazan, ne mazon ful eape locian onzean pa sunnan. Maneze beop peah azper ze full apele ze full welize and beop peah full unrote (Boethius xxxviii. [section] 5 and xi. [section]1)

The sense corresponding to 'very' is also evident in the quotation from Byrhtnoth, a text written before the year 1000:

(9) He ful baldlice beornas larde. (Byrhtnoth, 311 (Gr.))

The sentences (8-9) contain the nominal phrases ful eape 'very easily', full apele 'very noble', full welize 'very rich', full unrote 'very unhappy', and full baldlice 'very boldly'. The employment of geminated and non-geminated spellings of ful(l) in the same text seems to indicate their free variation.

In spite of the rivalry with the French adjective verai 'true', which soon assumed the function of an adverb and became normalised as very in writing (see [section]3 below), the intensifier ful(l) continued into Late Middle English, and, although relegated to peripheral use, survived in 19th century literary style; cf. several samples from the 14-19th centuries:
(10a) c1380 zee, ful deer breperen (Wyclif Wks. (1880) 309)
 c1570 With golden lace ful craftely engined
 (Thynne Pride & Lowl. (1841) 10)
 ?a1600 That til oure lif is ful profitable, and to oure soule
 (MS. Ashmole No. 60. 5 (Halliw.))
 1741 And I suppose too, she'll say, I have been full pert
 (Richardson Pamela I. 70)
 1869 O, full sweet, and O, full high, Ran that music up the sky
 (Ingelow Lily & Lute ii. 104)

or the phrases full many and full well used in archaising,
poetical style; cf.:

(10b) 1750 Full many a gem of purest ray serene (Gray Elegy xiv)
 1820 Old dames full many times declare (Keats St. Agnes v)
 1853 Philammon would have gone hungry to his couch full
 many a night
 (Kingsley Hypatia xiv. 168)
 1875 Those who can seem to forget what they know full well.
 (Helps Ess., Transact. Business 73)

Needless to say, the position of the adjective full in the sense 'complete' was never weakened and at all times it coexisted with the intensifier, ultimately surviving the latter.

In agreement with (2) and (5) the subsequent stage in the evolution of ful(l) should involve cliticization, i.e. word-final attachment of a grammaticalized item to another word. But curiously, the derivative, i.e. a bound form with ful, is dated in the OED much earlier than the non-bound, grammaticalized intensifier ful in (8) above; cf.:

(11) c700 Manticum: handful beouuas [Corpus Gl. beowes] (Epinal Gl. 645)

In Old English the suffix -full was attached to nouns, not to adjectives, one of the exceptions being deorcfull 'darkful', with double <11>, which renders and imitates L tenebrosus in a mid-11th century text (Liber Scintill. lxi. (1889) 187). However, the earliest form of the compound spoonful contains a form with single <1> as early as the 13th century, while the form with the geminate comes only from the end of the 14th century, cf.:f
(12) c1290 He nadde nouzt a spone-ful ale (S. Eng. Leg. I. 193)
 a 1425 Putte perin a sponeful of comon salt
 (tr. Arderne's Treat. Fistula, etc. 75)

while examples with geminated <11> include:

(13) c1380 Pouder of seede of lanett a sponfull, and of love-ache a
 (in Rel. Ant. I. 52)

 c1475 Thre sponfull of pe blak spyce (Henryson Poems
 (S.T.S.) III. 152.

But another similar construction, mouthful, behaves more predictably, revealing forms with double <11> relatively late, i.e. between the 15th and mid-17th centuries, cf.:
(14) c1400 A mouth-full of hoot water... (tr. Secreta Secret., Gov.
 Lordsh. 77)
 1530 Mouthfull, baufre (Palsgr. 247/1)
 c1532 In their mouthfull takyng refection
 (G. Du Wes Introd. Fr. in Palsgr. 1017)
 1607 ... Mouthfull of Hay or Grasse?
 (Rowlands Diog. Lanth. (Hunter. Cl.) 34)
 1608 And at last, deuowre them all at a mouthfull
 (Shakes. Per. ii. i. 35)
 c1645 She took a mouthfull of claret ...
 (Howell Lett. (1650) II. 25)

While geminated forms of mouthful are listed last in mid-17th century, those with single <1> first emerge in the 16th century. Evidently, before 1650 the clitic -full underwent further reduction of its semantic component and became a regular suffix; cf.:
(15) c1530 He asked for a mouthful of quick brimstone
 (Hickscorner in Hazl. Dodsley I. 179)

 1649 God plucked them from their deceiving hopes, before they got
 half a bellyful, yea, or a luck mouthful of the world
 (Last Sp. Visct. Kenmure in Sel. Biog.
 (Wodrow Soc. 1845) I. 384)

 1692 An Ass was Wishing for a Mouthful of Fresh Gras to Knab upon
 (R. L'Estrange Fables cccxvii. 277)

 1693 To take a mouthful of sweet Country air
 (Dryden Juvenal iii. ad fin.)

It must be emphasised that part of the original semantic force is retained in items like cupful, handful, houseful, mouthful, spoonful, which is reflected in the pronunciation [ful] of the suffix, while more advanced grammaticalization occurs only in those items where -full is pronounced [fel/fa] with a partial or total reduction of the vowel; as in awful, careful, wonderful, etc.

From the above it follows that the product of more advanced grammaticalization, the suffix -ful, now enjoys high frequency of use, while the intensifier full, which came into early use in the process of divergence, has failed to survive in Present-day English. It seems that in Mediaeval English the presence or lack of gemination in ful(l) cannot be treated as an unambiguous indicator of the early or the late form since both spellings are often used interchangeably.

As has been shown earlier, the intensifier full, whose position became drastically weakened in Middle English, was relegated to peripheral and special use in Early Modern English. Its elimination was obviously connected with the growing importance of the continuation of OF verrai in English (see 3 below).

3. The intensifier very

The evolution of very, the original adjective borrowed from French, offers another suitable opportunity to trace the shift from lexical to grammatical in English. OF verai (< L verus), an adjective meaning 'true', was originally found in the Old French masterpiece Chanson de Roland (c. 1100). Following the deletion of -e- in the initial syllable the contracted form vrai became generally accepted in French a century later but failed to exert a modifying impact on the form veray, an early French loanword in English, which exhibited forms with the initial sequence ver- throughout Middle and Modern English. The earliest instances of the adjective verai can be traced back to the 13th century when it still retained the original sense of 'true'; cf.:
(16) c1250 pet he was verray prest (Kent. Serm. in O.E. Misc. 27 ...).
 a1300 Warrai man and godd warrai (Cursor M. 22729 ...).
 13.. Wele hap Gij don pat day, As gode knizt & verray
 (Guy Warw. 3568)

That usage continued into the next century, and the sense 'true' is evidenced, for example, in Chaucer's poetry, cf.:

(17) 1386 He was a verray, parfit gentil knyght (C.T. G.P 72)

One should not overlook that in the Knight's description verray is separated from the following adjective by a comma, used as an evident warning signal to prevent the latter's interpretation as a grammaticalized form, a preposed intensifier modifying the following adjective. Another quotation, from the Legend of Good Women, offers an even more characteristic example of the use of verray; cf.:

(18) c1385 L.G.W 1686 Lucretia, The verray wif, the verray trewe Lucresse

where the adjective verray retains its sense, though modified to 'faithful', in the phrase the verray wif, but is simultaneously affected by incipient divergence, evident in the verray trewe Lucresse. In the latter the phrase it means 'genuinely', a sense not too distant from that of the intensifier 'very' (cf. Benson 1987: 1302). A similar meaning can be found in another late 14th century author, John of Trevisa, in a text coming roughly from the same period:

(19) 1387 But for he was verray repentaunt he was exciled for pe fey. (Trevisa Higden (Rolls) V. 329)

Because of specialisation of meaning, the adjective veray began to lose its semantic force in Late Middle English. Nevertheless the sense 'true, faithful' can be found, although with reduced frequency, in texts from the 16-19th centuries. However, its latest instances represent special styles; cf.:
(20) 1526 All men counted Ihon, that he was a veri prophett
 (Tindale Mark xi. 32)
 1533 Be this word he is veray God (Gau Richt Vay 37)
 al679 The written Law is but seeming justice; the Law of Nature
 very justice (Rhet. xvi. (1681) 39)

 a1680 Th' are very Men, not Things That move by Puppet-work (Butler
 Rem. (1759) I. 102)

Heavily marked stylistically are forms from the 19th century, including those representing American English; cf.:
(21) 1826 Yes, it is madness; very, very madness
 (Disraeli Viv. Grey iii. vi)
 1857 Thence we went into Queen Mary's room, and saw that
 beautiful portrait -- that very queen and very woman
 (Hawthorne Eng. Note-Bks. (1870) II. 329)

The evidence above suggests that grammaticalization of the adjective verai which resulted in the emergence of the standard intensified very occurred at the turn of Early New English. That development coincided with the decline of the old intensifier ful(l).

4. Concluding remarks

The analysis of the data adduced in the present study allows one to formulate the following tentative conclusions:

(a) Although the assumption that more grammaticalized forms appear in a language after less grammaticalized forms or content items cannot be seriously contested, this fact is not always reflected in the available historical evidence (e.g., forms with the clitic -ful are found in texts earlier than the intensifier ful), which means that grammaticalization is not obligatorily a continuous, linear process. As an alternative, it may involve a series of stages with dead ends.

(b) The reduction of an original more complex spelling, like full > ful, may sometimes reflect an ongoing grammaticalization; cf. the use of the adjective full as the intensifier, frequently spelt with a single <1>, as opposed to the adjective which employs double <11>.

(c) The rise of a grammaticalized form may trigger the elimination of another functionally related form in the same language, as was the case with the intensifier ful ousted by very, an original adjective from French, which became an intensifier through grammaticalization.



Benson, Larry D. (ed.)

1987 The Riverside Chaucer (3rd edition.) Boston: Houghton Mufflin.

Oxford English dictionary on CD-ROM

1992 (2nd edition.) Oxford: OUP.


Hopper, Paul J.

1991 "On some principles of grammaticalization", in: Paul J. Hopper - Elizabeth Closs Traugott (eds.), 17-35.

Hopper, Paul J. -- Elizabeth Closs Traugott

1993 Grammaticalization. Cambridge: CUP.

McMahon, April M. S.

1994 Understanding language change. Cambridge: CUP.

Traugott, Elizabeth Closs -- Bernd Heine

1991 "Introduction", in: Elizabeth Closs Traugott -- Bernd Heine (eds.), 1-14.

Traugott, Elizabeth Closs -- Bernd Heine (eds.)

1991 Approaches to grammaticalization. Vol. 1: Focus on theoretical and methodological issues. Amsterdam -- Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
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Author:Welna, Jerzy
Publication:Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies
Date:Jan 1, 2000
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