The dynamics of light verbs in the history of West Germanic languages
The main question of this research project concerns the extent to which light verbs in West Germanic languages participate in processes of language change.
This research project will investigate the historical development of light verbs in West Germanic languages. Light verbs, so called because they have very little meaning of their own, are widely attested cross-linguistically, and feature prominently in the West Germanic languages English, Dutch, German, Yiddish, Frisian and Afrikaans. In English, the most common light verbs are make, give, take, have, do, as found in combinations such as make a confession, give a kiss, take/have a guess, do a dance.
Given the long established presence of light verbs in West Germanic languages, their historical development has received surprisingly little attention. The main question of this research project concerns the extent to which light verbs in West Germanic languages participate in processes of language change. The investigation will further be concerned with the following two subquestions:
- To what extent is the use of light verbs in West Germanic languages determined by an information-packaging strategy?
- What is the categorial status of light verbs and how can this be formalised in the theoretical framework of generative grammar?
The central hypothesis of this project is that light verbs are subject to processes of grammaticalisation, by which a lexical element becomes more grammatical, but do not develop into fully grammatical verbs (i.e. auxiliaries). The research questions will be answered
- by comparing and analysing a representative sample of synchronic and diachronic data from West Germanic languages, to be collected primarily from existing electronic corpora
- by providing a formal syntactic analysis within the generative model of grammar.
This research will not only contribute to a fuller understanding of the syntax of light verbs in West Germanic languages, but also to better insights into the mechanisms of language change and into the way in which language is organised in general.