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Synchronic and diachronic microvariation in English do

  • Author(s): Schütze, Carson T
  • et al.
Abstract

In this paper it is shown how an account of the English auxiliary system that has been independently proposed to deal with problems in standard analyses also provides a natural treatment of microvariation among varieties of English. The phenomenon is the use of non-emphatic periphrastic/dummy do in positive declaratives (Mary did visit her brother), here called "spurious do," as found most famously in the English of the 1500s, but attested also in some modern dialects and registers and in child English, and closely related to the use of tun in colloquial German. The framework adopted dispenses with two standard but problematic claims about English INFL: the exceptional ability of be and have to raise to Tense, even across negation, and the existence of PF affix lowering. Instead it is claimed that English has overt verb raising and that finite be/have are base-generated in INFL, above negation; independent support for the latter is provided from VP ellipsis. The analysis of do is that it is an allomorph of the indicative value of the Mood head, whose other indicative allomorph is zero. Mood is above Tense and is where modals are base-generated. It is shown that this system cannot block the generation of spurious do, because this would require transderivational comparison. Thus, the narrow syntax makes spurious do freely available. Languages and dialects differ on the extent to which they make use of this option. All else equal, it should be dispreferred because it involves one more word than its counterpart without do, but numerous advantages, including processing and rhetorical benefits, can outweigh this. The conclusion is that do cannot be analyzed as a strictly last-resort device in the way proposed in Chomsky's classic analysis. (C) 2003 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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