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home > Existential Sentences from the Diachronic and Synchronic Perspectives

Existential Sentences from the Diachronic and Synchronic Perspectives
― A Descriptive Approach ―

Michiko Yaguchi
First published:
2017 / 10 / 28
Price (in Japan only):
5,500 yen (Tax Not Included) (240 pages)


Because of the longitudinal history of there existential sentences, which were already attested in Old English, a number of syntactic variations are observed in current English: some constructions are often used orally as well as in written texts, some only remain in use in informal vernaculars, and others in literal contexts. Obsolescent but not yet obsolete constructions as well as grammaticalized ones are almost always a hindrance, countering attempts to formulate a theory. The present study conducts a comprehensive examination of the diachronic development of existential sentences, analyzing over 46,000 quotation texts from the Oxford English Dictionary as well as other corpora with historical and contemporary date, to clarify the superficially inconsistent behaviors of existential sentences in present-day English.

This study also uncovers the following issues. First, the pragmatic function of five verbal forms (i.e. there's, there is, there are, there was, and there were) is analyzed. Second, the grammaticalized status of there's as not only a single phrase, but also as an adverbial-like particle, whose syntactic role is hard to determine, is discussed in depth. Third, the presentative function of existential sentences is focalized. It is exhibited that syntactic structures are closely related with the presentative function. Fourth, the diachronic transition of there's as a contracted form of there + is and there + has is revealed. The descriptive data compiled in this study is of importance.


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