The English Dative Alternation 1410 - 1680

Flack, Irene Susan The English Dative Alternation 1410 - 1680. Masters thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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The English dative alternation has received much study; its semantic roles and reasons for driving the choice of structure have been debated by many scholars. Despite the extensive studies carried out, however, no consensus has been reached by scholars as to whether the dative alternation is a completely random choice or if slight semantic differences understood, albeit subconsciously, by L1 English speakers do exist.
Apart from the work of Wolk et al. (2013), however, all studies have been conducted into the usage of the different structures in Present Day English only. The examination carried out by Wolk et al. looks into the development of the dative and genitive alternations from 1650 to the end of the 20th century. They identified some patterns which showed that certain structures were preferred for themes such as animacy, for example. Taking this study as a starting point, it was decided that the period from when case endings had almost completely been syncretised [c 15th century] up to the beginning of Wolk et al.’s work [mid17th century] was an interesting field for further investigation, and the Parsed Corpus of Early English Correspondence was chosen as a basis for this.
Data collected from 16th century correspondence did show some anomalies when compared with findings from other eras. Whilst the scope of the project did not allow for further investigation into the possibility, the fact that this was the era of the Inkhorn Controversy cannot be ignored.
During the data collection process, some patterns were, tentatively, identified. The most remarkable discovery, however, was that there emerged a strong possibility that social deixis could also have a bearing on use of the dative alternation. Prepositional phrases were shown to be used more often when addressing superiors or opponents, whereas the Double Object construction appeared more often in correspondence with peers and close family and friends.
Whilst this was not the main object of the study, originally, and the need for deeper examination to collaborate or repudiate the findings is necessary, this new area of investigation into the driving choice for dative has been identified.

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