The status of do-support in Early Modern English. "Gammer Gurton’s Needle" by William Stevenson and "The Relapse" by John Vanbrugh

Term Paper, 2016

31 Pages, Grade: Non-gradable - pass


The status of do-support in Early Modern English

1. Introduction

In the history of the English language, a major syntax feature is the occurrence of verb movement, which is characteristic of early English, whereas, in Present Day English (henceforth PDE), the finite main verb remains within the VP. The loss of V-movement comes with the rise of periphrastic do in negative declarative clauses, interrogative clauses and negative imperative clauses. The Early Modern English (henceforth EModE) period, which lies approximately between 1500 and 1700, is crucial as far as this change is concerned: the V-movement feature, distinguished by V-not (1) in negative declarative clauses and V-Subject (2) in interrogative clauses, coexists with the do-support feature, under the structure of do-not (3) in negative declarative and imperative clauses and do Subject-V (4) in interrogative clauses (Haeberli, 2016).

(1) “Thou rose not on thy right syde…” (Stevenson 1898:110) ‘You rose not on your right side…’
(2) “Know you any tydings?” (Stevenson 1898:119)
(3) “…such tokens do not fayle.” (Stevenson 1898:98)
(4) “Where didst thou find him?” (Stevenson 1898:130) ‘Where did you find him?’

According to Ellegård, the periphrastic do evolved from the West Germanic root don and, before that, from the Proto-Indo-European root dhe, which means to put, place, do or make (1953:208). As far as the gradual rise of do is concerned, Ellegård suggested a graph representing its frequency between 1400 and 1700, for different categories of clauses (Fig. 1):

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Fig. 1 - The rise of periphrastic do (Kroch 2008; adapted from Ellegård 1953)

This is the first relevant study on the rise of periphrastic do in EModE texts. We can notice from this graph the quicker progression of do in interrogative sentences, compared to its slow evolution in declarative sentences - affirmative and negative. From the study conducted by Haeberli and Ihsane we learn that only from 1500 onwards SV not order starts declining, though the decline is slow and it is only after the second half of the 17th century that the crucial decline leads to the present-day situation of obligatory do support where there is no other auxiliary.

In order to examine the status of do-support during the EModE period, I will analyse and compare two dramatic texts: Gammer Gurton ’ s Needle, by William Stevenson (c 1553-1563) and The Relapse, by John Vanbrugh (1697).

The major issue addressed in this paper is the use or non-use of periphrastic do with main verbs. Thus, I will try to answer the following questions:

(1) Is periphrastic do used where it would be obligatory in PDE or is it absent in such contexts? - with the following sub-questions: (a) What is the frequency of use of do in different clause types? (b) What features distinguish the occurrence or non-occurrence of do in the two plays?
(2) Does the use of do -support differ in the two texts? If it does, in what way?
(3) How are the two texts similar or different to other texts from the same period?
(4) What is the status of do -support in affirmative clauses?

In order to collect my data, I have extracted the structures where the auxiliary do occurs, but also the structures where the auxiliary do should occur in PDE, but does not in these texts. I have mostly used the EEBO platform (Early English Books Online), searching for the negative constructions - using not as a key word, searching for do in its different possible forms at the time - do, does, did, doth, dooth, dydst, dedst, dyd, didst, dost and searching for the question marks (?). However, I have also browsed the printed texts so that I could find the structures without do, which I could not find by key word search, due to different misspelling, lack of a question mark at the end of an interrogative structure or occurrence of some symbols like ‘~’, ‘^’, ‘ ’ instead of Latin letters or punctuation marks.

2. The sources

As I have mentioned, I have chosen two dramatic texts for my analysis, more exactly, two comedies. I decided on the two plays for various reasons: the same literary genre, relatively distant in time and not very famous (respectively not much studied before), as Shakespeare’s plays are.

Gammer Gurton ’ s Needle, whose authorship was debated, was probably written by William Stevenson (1906: VIII), some time between 1553 and 1563. Around the middle of the 16th century, there was a vast theatrical activity, especially at Cambridge. Not only did they act old Greek and Latin plays, which came with the rise of humanism, but also the humanist teachers and professors started to write themselves in Latin and English in order for the students and schoolboys to perform. And Gammer Gurton ’ s Needle was one of the plays written in that period (Fitzgerald & Sebastien, 2013:496). The play is set in a mid-Tudor crisis, economic disruption and religious disputes, which designate the main themes of the 5-act comedy in an, otherwise, trivial subject - the loss and search of a “precious” needle. Out of ten speaking characters in the play, Diccon, Hodge and Gammer provide most of the examples I took into consideration, while Cocke, Chat and Dr Rat add just a few more examples to our data. It is not the purpose of our study, but it would be very interesting to analyse the language according to who uses it.

The Relapse was written by John Vanbrugh in 1697, during the patriarchal crisis in post-revolutionary times. The play was a sequel to Cibber’s successful plays, Love ’ s Last Shift and The Fool in Fashion. Vanbrugh kept some elements and some of the characters, which led to having some parts acted by the same actors as those who played in Cibber’s plays. The main theme of the play is morality, the characters deceiving each other in love, social or family relationships. The author had a very open mind for that time and this is actually revealed in his plays - sexual explicitness and women’s rights in marriage - and for this reason he was attacked by his contemporaries. There are fourteen characters and the examples in our data come mostly from Foppington, Fashion,

Loveless, Amanda and Berinthia. In this play, there is a greater disparity between the characters’ speech and some of the characters only provided examples of language which is correct in PDE.

3. Results and analysis

I will first present the data I have collected from each of the two plays and afterwards I will analyse and compare the results. I did not count for the analysis the forms that are acceptable in today’s language norms, though I mentioned them in the Annex. Here are a few examples from both texts:

Imperative negative:

“Say nothing!” (Stevenson 1898: 119, 124) Declarative negative:

“I saw that none spyed me” (Stevenson 1898: 96) - instead of no one spied me

“…they did nothing.” (Stevenson 1898: 140)

“…you have nothing left…”(Stevenson 1893: 21)

“I have no time to give you…” (Vanbrugh 1893: 126)

“you never saw…” (Vanbrugh 1893: 149)

I have made two tables for each play: one table with the occurrences of do and another one with the situations where do is needed in PDE, but does not occur in our texts. For the occurrences of do, there are five types of sentences: affirmative declarative, negative declarative, interrogative, negative interrogative and negative imperative. For the constructions in which do is missing, the declarative affirmative type is obviously not included.

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TABLE 1 - Occurrences of do in Gammer Gurten ’ s Needle (c. 1563)

For Gammer Gurton ’ s Needle, the situation of do support, is as shown in Table 1:

do occurs in twelve affirmative structures, in only one negative declarative structure, fifteen interrogative clauses, seven negative interrogative clauses and only two negative imperative clauses. Looking at the examples where do is missing, but it would be obligatory in PDE, we have 34 negative declarative clauses, 28 examples of interrogative clauses, 11 negative interrogative clauses, and 9 negative imperative clauses (Table 2).

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TABLE 2 - Missing do in Gammer Gurten ’ s Needle (c. 1563)

For The Relapse, do- support is represented in Table 3 and Table 4. Even though the play dates back to the late EModE period, there are many examples of do in declarative affirmative clauses. However, there are also many instances of do in the other types of clauses (Table 3), compared to the constructions in which do is missing, their number having patently decreased (Table 4).

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TABLE 3 - Occurrences of do in The Relapse (1697)

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TABLE 4 - Missing do in The Relapse (1697)

A particular aspect in this text is the occurrence of do in short-answer constructions, a total of 29 examples. It seems that, at this stage, they start to be employed more frequently, compared to the beginning of the period we are referring to, since in the older text, I have only found one such example:

(5) The deuyll thou does! (1898:122) The devil you do (trust)!

3.1. The use of do in different clause types

For a better perspective of the issue, I will represent the occurrences / non-occurrence of do in the same table, excluding the declarative affirmative clauses, which will be analysed at a later stage.

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TABLE 5 - Do -support in Gammer Gurton ’ s Needle (c. 1563)

The number of clauses included in Table 5 is not very high, so the percentage may not be relevant at a general level. Nevertheless, we can notice that for the negative declarative clauses and for negative imperative clauses, do is just at the bottom level. Still, there is a various occurrence of both forms - with or without do - in the other two types of clauses, interrogative and negative interrogative, where the percentage is above 30 for the use of do.

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TABLE 6 - Do -support in The Relapse (1697)

We can observe in Table 6 that, for imperative clauses, the situation is reversed, compared to the older text: only 4.6% for the non-occurrence of do. In the interrogative clauses, do is missing in only 19.8% of our examples, in the negative interrogative clauses, it occurs in 95.2% of the cases while in negative declaratives, in 80.8%.

3.1.1. Negative declarative clauses

In Gurton Gammer ’ s Needle, the negative declarative constructions have the general structure of SVnot (23 examples), other forms without do as SnotV, SVXnot, XSVnot, while only 1 has the form Sdo-notV. Considering the low number of the latter, we cannot reckon it as a character-related feature. 39% of the negative declarative clauses where do is missing are Diccon’s lines, but this is due to the length of his speech throughout the play. According to Haeberli & Ihsane (2016:520), there are certain verbs that frequently occur without do in this period: know, doubt, have. Indeed, know is used 5 times in negative declaratives in Gammer Gurton ’ s Needle (with its different forms - know, knowe or wot), which means 15% of the total same type declaratives. However, based on the very low occurrence of do in this clause type, we can claim that there is no particular feature that distinguishes them within the play. It can be a characteristic of the play itself though, since it is a comedy and “contemporary burlesque and contemporary language would be largely expected” (2015: 219) in this genre.

In the later text, 63 examples have the structure Sdo-notV, while 13 have the form SVnot and two SVXnot. The lines where do does not occur, belong to eight different characters, therefore, again, it is not a character-related feature. However, looking at the verbs mostly used without do- support, know, care and need occur four times each, have two times and desire one time. Here, we can safely state that the verbs have an influence on the non-occurrence of do, all being state verbs. According to Ellegård (cited by Haeberli & Ihsane 2016:520), “certain verbs are more resistant to the rise of do than others”. Know, is also used with do- support in 19 instances, with no particular distinction of characters or of the type of clause - main or subordinate. On the other hand, the examples we have for the know- clauses in which do does not occur, all of them are main clauses. Thus, we can distinguish a pattern of the verb know being used without do support mainly in main clauses, in the later period of EModE. We can not reach the same conclusion for the other verbs mentioned above, because they are not used exclusively in main clauses and they do not occur so frequently in the do- support examples.

3.1.2. Interrogative clauses

In the earlier play, out of 12 do -interrogative clauses, 5 clauses have the structure DoSV (which represents 41.7%) while 7 (58.3) have the structure XdoSV, where X is normally a question word. These structures are perfectly fine in PDE. As for do, it can be found in different forms: dedst, dydst, dyd, didst, dost and of course, do and did.

In about 69% of the interrogative clauses, do is not present. These clauses have various structure: the most frequent one is XVS, where X is a question word - 13 clauses (6); VSX - seven clauses (7); XSV - two clauses (8); SVX - two clauses (9); VXS - one clause (10); and there is one clause where the subject is missing because is mentioned in the previous sentence and it is understood from the form of the verb which has an ending for the second person singular (11).

(6) “Whereto served your hands and eies…?” (1898:98)

(7) “…know you any tidings?” (1898:119)

(8) “Wherat she taketh so on?” (1898:100)

(9) “thou hast a knaue with-in thy house?” (1898:144)

‘ Do you have a knave in your house? ’

(10) “Comst behynd me thou withered witch?” (1898:127)

(11) “Why coms in-deede?” (1898:126)

There is no particular distinction regarding the characters who use constructions with or without do and, as the verbs are concerned, no specific type is more frequent than another. Verbs like know, say, have are employed in both lists, but the verb think occurs predominantly without do -support (5 instances). It is not the case for an interpretation of the factors which determine such choice, since it is mainly used in main clauses in both situations.

In The Relapse, do occurs in many examples, which is actually relevant for the rise of do for this period. As in PDE, the most common forms of interrogative structures are XdoSV, where X is a question word - 50 such instances in our text (12) - and DoSV - 36 examples (13). There are 3 interrogative clauses where the subject is missing and the structure is XdoV - 3 cases (14).

(12) “What dost thou expect?” (1893:21) ‘What do you expect?’

(13) “Did you observe that?” (1893:26)

(14) “What dost think on’t?” (1893:28)

Out of 21 examples without do, 15 have the structure XVS, X being the question word (15), six have the form VSX (16) and only one with an uncommon form, XSV (17).

(15) “What think you of these…?” (1893:69)

(16) “Sayest thou so?” (1893:31)

(17) “Why then, sir, your fool advises you to lay aside all animosity?” (1893:22)

We can notice that some specific verbs are more frequent in the constructions where do is missing: think and have occur four times (19%) each and say occurs 7 times (33.3%). Think is also predominant in the do- interrogative clauses - 23 instances (20.7%). We can assume that this period is a threshold for this verb - it starts to be used with do- support, but there are still many occurrences without do. As for the verb say, it occurs only twice in the do- constructions, which means that it is one of the latest verbs to change to do- support.

In the interrogative clauses in The Relpase, I could not identify any distinctive feature regarding the characters’ speech and the use or non-use of do.

3.1.3. Negative interrogative clauses

In Gammer Gurton ’ s Needle, out of 18 negative interrogative clauses, seven (39%) use do -support. Five clauses have the form DoNotSV (18), one clause has the PDE structure - DoSNotV (19) and in one clause, the subject is missing - DoNotVX (20).

(18) “Did not the devil cry?” (1898:118)

(19) “Did ye not sweare?” (1898:116)

(20) “Does not pricke your hand?” (1898:129)

As for the instances in which do is missing (61%), I identified three different structures: five clauses for VnotX (21), five clauses for VSnotX (22) and one clause XnotSV (23). In the VnotX structures, the subject is missing, but it can be deduced from the -st verb ending for the second person singular.

(21) “Seest not thy handiware?” (1898:151)

(22) “Have you not about your house…a hole?” (1898:136)

(23) “Wart not thou take within this houre in Dame…?” (1898:145)

With regard to the verbs used without do, we notice that see occurs five times and it does not occur at all in the do- structures. Therefore, this might be a distinguishing feature for do- support within this text. Have is not used with do either, but it only occurs twice, so it may not be relevant.

Things change completely for the negative interrogative clauses in The Relapse. As shown in Table 6, there are 21 such clauses, but do is missing in only one of them (4.4%) - VnotSX - where the main verb is have.

(24) “Have not I a page to carry it?” (1893:25)

Most of the do- clauses have the DoNotSVX structure - twelve examples (25). Those starting with the short form don ’ t are correct negative questions for PDE as well. DoSnotVX is another PDE structure, but there are only four such examples in the play.


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The status of do-support in Early Modern English. "Gammer Gurton’s Needle" by William Stevenson and "The Relapse" by John Vanbrugh
University of Geneva
Diachronic Syntax
Non-gradable - pass
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At the University of Geneva, some of the papers only receive pass / fail and no grades. There is a written appreciation of the supervisor / professor: "This is a solid analysis of the two plays: Relevant quantitative data are provided and the points are well illustrated. Generally, the paper is well written. Well done." I added the two appendices to the document - my personal extracts from the two plays.
early, modern, english, gammer, gurton’s, needle, william, stevenson, relapse, john, vanbrugh
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Camelia Santa (Author), 2016, The status of do-support in Early Modern English. "Gammer Gurton’s Needle" by William Stevenson and "The Relapse" by John Vanbrugh, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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Title: The status of do-support in Early Modern English. "Gammer Gurton’s Needle" by William Stevenson and "The Relapse" by John Vanbrugh

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