The rise of auxiliary DO verb-non-raising or category-strengthening

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The rise of auxiliary DO verb-non-raising or category-strengthening

    iThe rise of auxiliary DO: verb-non-raising or category-strengthening?

Richard Hudson



    The paper contrasts two explanations for Ellegård's statistical data on the rise of auxiliary DO during the 15th and 16th centuries. One is Kroch's explanation in terms of a change on the parameter of verb-raising, which is shown to have a number of serious weaknesses. The other is Warner's explanation in terms of the gradual development of the distinction between auxiliary and full verbs. Though Kroch quotes Ellegård's figures in support of the

    Principles-and-Parameters analysis, they actually support Warner's view much better. The paper also considers developments in the auxiliary system since the 16th century and offers a mixture of cognitive and functional explanations for the changes since the 13th century.

1. A qualitative history of the auxiliary DO

    One of the most striking characteristics of Modern English is the importance of the auxiliary DO. In the absence of any other auxiliary, it is used in subject-inversion, in negation, in emphatic polarity, in `VP anaphora' and in tag questions, as shown by the following pairs of examples where a sentence containing DO is contrasted with one containing another auxiliary, HAVE. (1) aHave they finished?

     b Did they finish?

    (2) aThey haven't finished.

     b They didn't finish.

    (3) a They HAVE finished!

     b They DID finish!

    (4) a They have.

     b They did.

    (5) a They have finished, have(n't) they?

     b They finished, did(n't) they?

    Auxiliary DO is often called `periphrastic' DO because it has no meaning independent of the meaning of the construction concerned; the only reason for using auxiliary DO in Modern English is because the syntax requires an auxiliary and no other auxiliary is needed by the sentence's meaning. DO fills the gaps where non-auxiliary verbs are not allowed and where other auxiliaries are not needed.

     In Middle English, in contrast, DO had no special role because auxiliary and non-auxiliary


    verbs could be used in much the same ways, as shown in Table 1 (where Middle English word-forms have been modernised). The choice of sentence-types to illustrate the change will be explained below.

     [Table 1 about here]

     This complementarity between auxiliary DO and other verbs means that any history of DO must also be a history of the whole system of auxiliary and non-auxiliary verbs. In a nutshell, what has happened over the last thousand years is that a range of constructions have developed in which only an auxiliary verb is allowed. The main constructions are exemplified in 0-0. As we shall see, there are other constructions in which auxiliary and non-auxiliary verbs are treated differently, but the ones just mentioned are special because they occur so often in any text, and correspondingly in the experience of any language user or language learner. Any change in these constructions has a high profile in the history of the language. We also know a great deal about the history of DO in these constructions, and can locate the change quite precisely in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. During that period, as non-auxiliary verbs waned, so DO waxed; and it makes no sense to try even to describe the history of DO on its own, let alone to explain it. This paper therefore has to present the changes in the use of DO as part of a much larger pattern of change which has affected all verbs.

     This much is uncontroversial. The point of contention is the nature of these large-scale changes. I shall compare two very different views which are exemplified by the work of Kroch (e.g. 1989, 1994) and of Warner (especially 1993). I shall try to show that the numerical data which Kroch quotes in support of his account actually support Warner's account much better. In both cases the rise of DO turns out to be just a small corner of a much larger picture of grammatical reorganisation, but the overall pictures are very different. In Kroch's picture the details of change all follow from the resetting of a single underlying `parameter', the verb-raising parameter, during the 15th and 16th centuries. Before the change, English allowed all verbs to raise to the position of the abstract inflectional node in a Barriers-type sentence structure (Chomsky 1986, Pollock 1989); but since the change verb-raising is no longer allowed. In principle this parameter can only be set in one direction, but an individual may have two different grammars, each with a different setting for this parameter. Warner's picture shows a much more gradual development which had nothing to do with verb-raising; in fact, verb-raising is not recognised as a reality at any time in the history of English. Instead, what changed is the meaning of being an auxiliary or non-auxiliary verb. From modest beginnings, this distinction came to be relevant to a larger and larger range of constructions (and other patterns), a development which could extend over many centuries beyond the 15th and 16th centuries - a strikingly different view from Kroch's.

     Whereas Kroch locates his explanation firmly in the transformational paradigm, Warner's


    belongs explicitly to the cognitive tradition with its stress on structured categories (such as word-classes). The debate involves serious questions about the nature of grammars and sentence structure; in particular, is the verb-raising transformation real in any languages? Indeed, are any

     transformations real? If Kroch's account is successful then it must count as serious support for the transformational view of sentence structure. If Warner is right, on the other hand, the diachronic facts are equally compatible with monostratal theories of syntactic structure such as Head-driven Phrase Structure Grammar (Pollard and Sag 1994), Lexical Functional Grammar (Bresnan 1982) or Word Grammar (Hudson 1990).

     The facts for which these two views are alternative explanations are not in dispute. As mentioned earlier, Warner recognises a broader range of facts as relevant, but we can start by focussing on the patterns which Kroch discusses. These are the five constructions shown in Table 1 - negative and interrogative sentences of various kinds. These are the most relevant to Kroch's account because they are the ones where (on his analysis) verb-raising once applied but no longer does. However they are also relevant because we have useful statistical data which we shall consider in the next section. We shall consider Warner's broader view in section 4.

2. A quantitative history

    The historical facts relevant to negative and interrogative sentences can be summarised as follows (I follow the account in Denison (1993:255f)). The `periphrastic' (semantically empty) DO appeared first in the 13th century, but at that time it had no special connections with negation or inversion; nor, indeed, were these restricted by rule to auxiliary verbs. The link between auxiliary-hood and these sentence-types appeared first in the 15th century, and had almost reached its modern solidity (with some differences of detail) by the end of the 16th. The changes shown in Table 1 were completed within two centuries, and our challenge is to explain not only why they happened at all, but also the way they spread through both the grammar and the population.

     First, the data. For each of the sentence-types shown in Table 1, Kroch quotes both the total number of textual examples counted in which DO might have occurred (N) and the

    iipercentage of these in which DO was used. His raw numbers (based on Ellegård 1953:159) are

    repeated in Table 2.

     [Table 2 about here]

     As can be seen from the second column, the data-points are not distributed evenly through time. It will be helpful to present the figures graphically, so we can reorganise them in equal periods of 25 years by collapsing the figures from 1526-1550, and by splitting those for 1426-1475 (with some averaging to smooth transitions where appropriate). The result is the rather complex graph in Fig. 1, which appears to confirm Kroch's Constant Rate Effect - that `the


    rate at which the newer option replaces the older one is the same in all contexts' (1994:181). According to Kroch, a statistical analysis in terms of logistic regressions shows that the rate of slope is the same in all contexts (ibid:182). More generally, he says that the same pattern, the Constant Rate Effect, is found repeatedly in empirical investigations. He offers an explanation for the change which we shall consider in the next section.

     [Fig 1 about here]

     One of the most striking features of Fig. 1 is that the five lines appear to form two clusters. The lines for negative questions and transitive (positive) questions are consistently higher than the other three, and by the mid-16th century the two clusters are very clearly separated. I shall call the two clusters the `high-do' and `low-do' constructions. How seriously should we take the apparent difference shown in this graph? One way to test its significance is by testing the statistical significance of differences between the constructions at each point in time. For example, in 1400 11.7% of negative questions contained DO, whereas 0% of transitive questions did. This percentage difference is enough to separate the two lines in Fig. 1, but when we look at the raw figures we find that they are based on a total of only 17 negative questions and three transitive questions - i.e. 2/17 negative questions had DO, compared with 0/3 transitive questions. It is easy to test the statistical significance of this difference (by the Chi-square test). It is not at all significant - the probability (p) is over 0.5, meaning that such a difference is likely to be found purely by chance in over 50% of random samples. It is normal to set a threshold of 5% (p < 0.05) for

    statistical significance, so the question is which of the differences shown in Fig. 1 are significant in this technical sense.

     In a nutshell, the answer is that (with a handful of exceptions which we shall consider below) the only significant differences are those between our high-do and low-do groups. More precisely, at least one high-do construction (transitive question) is almost always significantly different from at least one low-do construction (intransitive question); the two high-do constructions are almost never significantly different from each other; nor are the three low-do constructions. Fig. 2 shows the much simpler picture which results if we ignore all the differences which are statistically below the threshold of significance. Clearly, we are dealing with two groups of concomitant changes, rather than with a single one; so any explanation must be able to explain why the changes are grouped in this way.

     [Fig. 2 about here]

     As mentioned above, Fig. 2 is actually too simple. The statistical analysis reveals two exceptions.

    ; In 1500-25, transitive and intransitive questions fall together, each leaving the group that it belongs to at other periods - i.e. DO is significantly rarer in transitive questions than in the other high-do construction, and significantly more frequent in intransitive questions than in the other


low-do constructions.

    ; In 1525-50, Wh-object questions become significantly rarer than the other low-do constructions.

    These two aberrations are shown in Fig. 3. If we use statistical analysis at all, we must respect it in all cases. A complete explanation for the historical changes that led eventually to the relatively simple two-way split in 1550-75 will have to explain these details, but I admit immediately that I have no such explanation.

     [Fig. 3 about here]

     To judge by these graphs, the high-do contexts had a growth-spurt around 1500 which was not matched by the low-do contexts until much later - in fact we can only assume the existence of a later spurt during the next century after the period covered by Kroch's data. We must obviously also assume that the spurt for the high-scorers levelled off during this period, as the figures approached 100%. In short, we seem to have evidence here for two separate S-shaped curves whose spurts cover about a century, but which (according to Kroch's statistical tests) have the same slope and therefore could illustrate different applications of the same change. The challenge, therefore, is to explain first, what this change consisted in, and second, to explain why it affected negative and transitive questions before all the other sentence-types.

3. An explanation in terms of the verb-raising parameter

    Kroch takes the statistical linkage between the various changes as evidence for a fundamental linkage in the speakers' competence:

    We take its general validity to indicate that what changes in frequency in the course of time

    during a syntactic change is language users' overall tendency to choose one abstract

    grammatical option over another in their language production. ... The unity of the change

    is defined at the level of the grammar, not at the level of the surface contexts. This unity he finds in a single Chomskian parameter which has many ramifications, so that the transition period covered by his data involved competition between two distinct grammars.

     The parameter in question is the presence or absence of verb-raising (or, in more recent terms, whether or not verb-raising is forced to apply before the structure is `spelled out' phonetically). Fig. 4 shows the basic sentence-structure which he assumes.

     [Fig. 4 about here]

    The assumption is that the node `I' (for Inflection or INFL) is crucial for subject inversion and negation, so if a verb is raised to I both of these possibilities are open to it. Without verb-raising, neither inversion nor negation is possible, so DO (which can occur at I) must be supplied, whereas (according to Kroch (ibid:192)), auxiliary verbs are exempt from the loss of verb-raising, which is why they do not need DO.


     One of the attractions of the verb-raising analysis is that it also explains a change in the position of adverbs. Kroch quotes the following example to illustrate the change: (6) a (Middle English) Queen Ester looked never with swich an eye.

     b (Modern English) Queen Ester never looked with such an eye.

    If we assume that adverbs such as never are generated as adjuncts on the left edge of the VP, then

    verb-raising would move looked past never; so the loss of verb-raising would explain why never

    cannot follow the verb in Modern English. Kroch quotes further figures from Ellegård (1953) which confirm that this change took place at roughly the same time as the rise of auxiliary DO, and that it spread at roughly the same rate as the other changes. More precisely, the pre-verbal position of never arrived about a generation before the use of DO in high-do contexts as can be seen from Fig. 5.

     [Fig. 5 about here]

     Most of Kroch's paper deals with the mechanism, called Grammar Competition, which drove our linguistic ancestors to sort out the conflict between their two grammars. He suggests that:

    the historical evolution of competing variants in syntactic change is similar to the evolution of

    morphological doublets. In both cases, the coexistence of the variant forms is

    diachronically unstable: one form tends to drive the other out of use and so out of the

    language. (196)

    He suggests that all syntactic change may be located in the requirements of individual formatives (184), and Grammar Competition eliminates alternative syntax just as it eliminates synonyms (except when these are supported by sociolinguistic differences). Unfortunately his general discussion of Grammar Competition does not deal directly with verb-raising, but he presumably sees this too as something which is triggered by the formative INFL, so the competition is between an INFL which does trigger raising and one which does not.

     Kroch's statistics do seem to support his claim that DO spread through the various sentence-types at the same speed, and that this spread could be linked to the change in adverb position. However there are serious weaknesses in his theoretical interpretation. ; If the change involved nothing but the verb-raising requirements of INFL, why did it affect the different sentence-types at different times? Kroch's analysis predicts that DO and adverb-preposing should have grown not only at the same speed but also at the same time, with no difference at all across sentence-types; and similarly for the various sentence-types which were affected. Kroch recognises this problem, but offers only a partial explanation: .. the approach taken here implies directly that the frequency differences in different contexts of

    a change must be due to factors orthogonal to the grammatical change itself .. and that

    these orthogonal factors are responsible for the differences in the .. parameter values in