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The afinite construction in Middle Low German


  • Anne Breitbarth Ghent University



Middle Low German, afinite construction, auxiliary ellipsis


The afinite construction, that is, the ellipsis of a finite auxiliary from a verbal complex in a syndetic subordinate clause, curiously appears in Early New High German (ENHG) in the second half of the 15th century, and disappears again ca. 250 years later, though the ellipsis of perfect auxiliaries remains possible, at a much lower frequency, for longer. The same type of ellipsis has also been reported for Middle Low German (MLG) by Magnusson (1939), and the first attestation predates the ENHG one by about 200 years. Härd (2000: 1459) repeats Magnusson’s observation and adds that the ellipsis becomes “very frequent” from the 13th century onwards. Based on the MLG reference corpus ReN, the current paper shows that while Magnusson’s finding can be confirmed, Härd’s claim cannot be substantiated. All in all, the afinite construction is only scatteredly attested in MLG, but there is great variation between texts. The current paper will attempt to identify the determining, mainly language-external, factors behind this variation. The new data furthermore afford a new assessment of the origin of the afinite construction, and lend support to the hypothesis that ENHG and MLG underwent independent developments with respect to the emergence of the construction.



2022-10-19 — Updated on 2022-11-22




Special Issue: Morphosyntactic Variation in Early Modern West Germanic