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The Rise of the To-Infinitive$
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Bettelou Los

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780199274765

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199274765.001.0001

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Innocent bystander: the loss of the indefinite pronoun man

Innocent bystander: the loss of the indefinite pronoun man

(p.275) 10 Innocent bystander: the loss of the indefinite pronoun man
The Rise of the To-Infinitive

Bettelou Los (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter presents an account of an unexpected victim of both the rise of the to-infinitive and the loss of verb-second: the ‘ultra-indefinite’ pronoun man. Two factors almost completely destroyed the niche occupied by man in Old English. With to-infinitive clauses increasing at the expense of finite embedded clauses, the frequency of man, as the subject of those finite clauses also decreases, its function taken over by its non-overt counterpart, arbitrary PRO. The second factor is the loss of verb-second, which affected the information structure of the clause and promoted the use of various passive constructions over the use of an active construction with a man subject. Subjects came to play a far more prominent role in maintaining textual cohesion. This left little scope for the indefinite pronoun man, whose main role had been to provide a contentless subject, functionally equivalent to a passive.

Keywords:   arbitrary PRO, finite clause, indefinite pronoun, impersonal pronoun, ultra-indefinite, passive, verb-second, information structure, discourse prominence, textual cohesion

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