On the Rise of the Dative and Benefactive Alternations in English: The Intertwining of Differentiation with Attraction

Colloquium | April 8 | 3:10-5 p.m. | 370 Dwinelle Hall

 Elizabeth Closs Traugott, Stanford University

 Department of Linguistics

The rise of the ‘dative’ alternation (e.g. She gave her neighbor birthday presents ~ She gave birthday presents to her neighbor) has been shown to develop in later Middle English, around 1400 (Zehentner 2018). Building on Zehentner and Traugott (Forthcoming), I outline the rise of the benefactive alternation (e.g. build her a house ~ build a house for her) after 1600 from a historical constructionalist perspective and compare it with the rise of the dative alternation. My focus is on what evidence these developments provide for De Smet et al.’s (2018) discussion of attraction and differentiation. De Smet et al. propose that when functionally similar constructions come to overlap analogical attraction may occur. So may differentiation, but this process involves attraction to other subnetworks and is both “accidental” and “exceptional”. I show that in the histories of the dative and benefactive alternations functionally similar constructions come to overlap, and differentiation from each other plays as large a role as attraction to each other. Both attraction and differentiation occur at different levels: the verb and its distribution, the alternation subtype, and the larger system. Differentiation plays a considerably more significant role than De Smet et al. propose.


De Smet, Hendrik, Frauke D’hoedt, Lauren Fonteyn & Kristel van Goethem. 2018. The changing functions of competing forms: Attraction and differentiation. Cognitive Linguistics 29(2): 197-234.

Zehentner, Eva. 2018. Ditransitives in Middle English: On semantic specialization and the rise of the dative alternation. English Language and Linguistics 22(1): 149-175.

Zehentner, Eva & Elizabeth Closs Traugott. Forthcoming. Constructional networks and the development of benefactive ditransitives in English. In Elena Smirnova & Lotte Sommerer, eds., Nodes and Networks in Diachronic Construction Grammar (working title). Amsterdam: Benjamins