Functions and distribution of determiners in Old English genitive noun phrases

  • ISSN
    0524-6881 (print)
    1805-0867 (online)
Type: Article
This paper aims to investigate the distribution and function of the determiners sē, sēo, þæt in Old English genitive noun phrases. The hypotheses presented stem from the analysis of the Old English version of Bede's "Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum". Data shows, on the one hand, that determiners display a peculiar distribution, as their position varies according to the relative order of the genitive modifier and the head noun in genitive noun phrases, be it "genitive+noun" or "noun+genitive". On the other hand, their function does not seem to be as clear-cut as is usually described in grammar textbooks, since determiners appear to be used in a bridging context, oscillating between pragmatic or semantic definiteness. The discussion in this paper provides a functional description of determiners on the basis of the type of genitive noun phrase as a contribution to the debate on the status of determiners in Old English. Additionally, it provides a hypothesis concerning the apparent correlation between determiners and "head + modifier" structures where they appear to be six times as frequent as in "modifier + head": the hypothesis is that this correlation is not casual, but may have originated from appositive structures of the kind "Head-Noun+[DET+Adj/N]".
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