Impersonal modals in Middle English
Sune Gregersen
(University of Amsterdam)
Friday (April 21st), 11:30-11:55
Lipsius 148

In Old English (c. 700–1100), a number of verbs could occur with an oblique (i.e. dative or accusative) argument where Present-Day English requires a nominative subject, such as me mætte 'I dreamt' (Prose Genesis) and him ofhreow þæs mannes 'he pitied the man' (Ælfric, Catholic Homilies I, 13). Before this 'impersonal' pattern disappeared from the language, it underwent a number of changes in the Middle English period (c. 1100–1500), and appears to have spread to some of the modal verbs. Hence, in late Middle English we find examples like those in (1) and (2): 

(1) him must be vp be tyme to goo on huntyng
(Ipomedon, c. 1460) 

(2) Me awghte to knowe þe Kynge: he es my kydde lorde
(Alliterative Morte Arthure, c. 1440) 

This paper aims to describe the use and distribution of such impersonal modals in the Middle English period and discuss some possible explanations for how it developed, including the role of analogy and language contact. Data will be drawn from the Corpus of Middle English Prose and Verse, the Innsbruck Corpus of Middle English Prose, and the Middle English Dictionary.