chapter  4
23 Pages

Number Agreement in Existential Constructions: A Sociolinguistic Study of Eighteenth-Century English


In general terms, this chapter contributes to the discussion on the loss of inectional agreement in the English language. This typological change is unprecedented among the Germanic languages: in the course of its documented history, English has changed from a synthetic language to a largely analytic one. Little remains of the grammatical system of agreement today apart from number marking-the distinction between singular and plural, which is shown, for instance, in determiner-head and subject-verb agreement. However, as Matthews (1987: 156) remarks, “[subject-verb] agreement in English is a notoriously variable matter”. It is this inherent variability in subject-verb agreement and attempts to regulate it that constitute the dual focus of this chapter.1