Degree Resultatives As Second-Order Constructions

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Journal Of German Linguistics


Resultatives in English and Dutch have developed special degree readings. These readings stem from a reinterpretation of the resultative predicate as indicating a high degree rather than an actual result. For example, when a parent says I love you to death, one need not call the cops, since the sentence is not about love turning lethal, but merely indicative of a high degree of affection. Such cases have often been noted in the literature as idiomatic, but this view ignores the fact that these are not isolated cases but productive constructions that can be used with a variety of verbs. We explore various resultative constructions in English and Dutch, and give a classification of the subtypes involved as well as their diachronic development from ordinary to degree interpretation. We link these subtypes to lexical semantic classes of verbs. Both English and Dutch show a steady growth in the lexical and structural diversity of degree resultatives throughout the early modern and contemporary periods (1600-2000). We focus in our paper on the period 1800-2000, for which we did an extensive corpus study using the Corpus of Historical American English (COHA) and Delpher (a collection of digitized Dutch newspapers, journals, magazines, and other resources). One of our findings is that, similar to other types of expressive language, such as degree modification and emphatic negation, taboo expressions play a role in degree resultatives; in fact, their role is excessive. We outline a number of the commonalities among the semantic domains of expressive language used in resultatives.


grammaticalization, resultatives, intensifier, taboo, verb classes, corpus