The Progressive in 19th-Century English : A Process of Integration

University dissertation from Uppsala : Engelska institutionen

Abstract: The present work is a corpus-based study of the English progressive during the 19th century. The study is based on Conce, a one-million-word corpus covering the period 1800–1900 and comprising seven genres, both speech-related and non-speech-related. The main aim of the study is to account for the use and development of the progressive in 19th-century English. I use the term "integration" throughout the study with reference to the process by which the progressive became an increasingly important part of English grammar. Integration is taken to be a wide concept that includes, for instance, elements of grammaticalization theory, and diffusion across linguistic and extralinguistic parameters.In order to discuss the impact of extralinguistic features on the frequency of the progressive, I relate the number of progressives both to the number of words in texts and to the number of verb phrases. The results show that the frequency of the progressive varies significantly with all three extralinguistic features investigated: time, genre, and the sex of letter-writers. The progressive is more frequent, and, in that sense, more fully integrated, at the end of the 19th century than at the beginning; it is also more common in non-expository genres (e.g. Drama) than in expository genres (e.g. Science), and in women’s than in men’s letters. However, the increase in the frequency of the progressive is not paralleled by greater verb phrase complexity and diversity, as regards either the number of auxiliaries that the progressive verb phrases in the material incorporate or the type/token ratio for main verbs in progressive verb phrases.Comparing the frequency of the progressive with the results of two recent multi-feature/multi-dimensional analyses of CONCE, I show that the progressive is common, and thus integrated to a high degree, in texts that are characterized by involved production and situation-dependent reference, and that do not exhibit an abstract information focus. There is also a slight tendency for the progressive to be frequent in texts that display narrative concerns. The results provide empirical support for suggestions in previous research that the progressive is an oral and/or colloquial feature.Analyses of the linguistic context of the progressives suggest complex interrelationships between several linguistic and extralinguistic parameters. The extent to which the progressives in the material are modified by temporal adverbials decreases over the 19th century; at the same time, the proportion of the progressives that occur in main clauses increases. In addition, progressives in expository genres tend to occur in subordinate clauses, and in comparatively straightforward aspectual contexts, to a higher extent than progressives in non-expository genres. The results also imply that the diffusion of formal passive progressive marking was most rapid in genres where comparatively many progressives have non-agentive subjects.Three types of progressives assumed to express something beyond purely aspectual meaning are distinguished on the evidence of their linguistic context. The types analysed differ with respect to their functions and distribution. Nevertheless, provided that a parallel can be established between the phenomena of grammaticalization and integration, the overall increase in the frequency of these progressives lends empirical support to claims that the grammaticalization of a linguistic feature may involve an increase in the subjectivity expressed by the feature.

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