On Sa, 21.03.2009, 00:54, Dennis King wrote:
> McWhorter writes that "in many colloquial dialects of Germanic
> languages, one can use 'do' in a way kind of like English's
> meaningless 'do'."
Another installment about periphrastic DO in German dialects. This may
look off topic. But it may light up typologic paths along which such
constructions come into being, thereby adding to the understanding of the
rise of the type in English and to English's relationship with Celtic
I have given more thought about periphrastic DO in German and I have come
up with another idea about its origins. The German language, and even more
so its dialects, have a great propensity for using lexical verbs in
constructions with modal verbs, i.e. modal verbs like "ich kann, darf,
muss, soll, will, wuerde" + infinitive of the lexical verb. Sometimes in
everyday conversation, such constructions may constitute the majority of
cases, instances of plain unmodified verbs being the minority. Such
constructions add to the ease of communication because you only have to
remember the inflection of a small number of verbs. The lexical portion of
the construction is carried by an invariant form alone.
The DO-periphrases may just/also be an extension of this type. DO would
follow the "easy" type of construction of the modal verbs, i.e. DO +
infinitive. Within the group of modal verbs, DO would then have to be
analysed as a marker for zero modality. The choice of DO may have been
supported by the fact that in some dialects (not in the standard language)
the subjunctive of DO is used in periphrastic subjunctive constructions.
Returning to one of my earlier mails, in German dialects we find - on the
one hand - the analytic type of past and future formations, on the other
hand the analytic type of expressing modality. The two may have conspired
to exert pressure on the unmarked base form of the verb, i.e. the present
indicative, to be expressed analytically as well, at last as optionally.