This paper is part of an ongoing study of the evolution
of intensifiers undertaken in collaboration with Victorina
González-Díaz (University of Liverpool). We have paid
special attention to very because it is the prototypical
intensifier (and arguably the only fully grammaticalised
item in the set) and because it has been taken as a
'classic case' of the grammaticalisation process in
In an earlier paper, González-Díaz (2004a) examined
a number of syntactic and semantic concomitants of the
category shift of very from adjective to intensifying
adverb in the period from LME to EModE, concluding that:
- ·the initial steps of the adj. > adv. shift
can accounted for in terms of a cline of gradability.
Very initially combines with adjectives that
only occur in complementary construals (c1400), later
expanding to adjectives with antonymic readings,
- contra the claims of previous studies (e.g. Mustanoja
1960, Ito & Tagliamonte 2003), there does not
seem an obvious interconnection between the bleaching
of the original meaning of very and the widening
of its syntactic scope in terms of the positions (attributive/predicative)
that it can occupy; however
- by the end of the 16th century, there is a noticeable
change in the collocates of very, which seems
to be moving towards becoming exclusively an adverb
In this paper I focus on the EModE period, which appears
to be crucial for several developments in the evolution
of PDE very. It is the period in which it overtakes
the most popular ME intensifiers full/right/well;
it is also the period in which it develops its role
as identifying adjective (or determinative) as in 'the
very man I was looking for'. I shall be particularly
concerned with the interpersonal aspects of these changes.
I will show how the chronological layering (adjective
> adjective intensifier > adverb intensifier)
of very has important synchronic correlates in
terms of its socio-stylistic distribution in this period.
This will lead me to examine the role of hyperbole
(a) as a rhetorical figure in EModE and (b) as a pragmatic
strategy and a mechanism of language-change.
The study will be corpus-based and my main population
of speakers will be taken from Shakespeare's plays.
One by-product of the investigation will be to test
the intuition-based hypotheses of earlier literary scholars
about Shakespeare's 'enregisterment' of grammatical
features as class-markers.
Adamson, S. M. (2000) “A lovely little example: word
options and category shift in the premodifying string”,
Fischer, O., A. Rosenbach and D. Stein (eds.) Pathways
of change. Grammaticalisation in English, Amsterdam
and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, pp. 39-66.
Gillett, P.J. (1974) “Me, U and Non-U: class-connotations
of two Shakespearean idioms.” Shakespeare Quarterly
Gonzalez-Diaz, V. (2004a) “Back to the very beginning:
the development of intensifiers in EModE”, paper presented
at 13th ICEHL, Vienna.
González-Díaz, V. (2004b) “Adjectival double periphrastic
comparatives in EModE: a socio-stylistic analysis”,
Folia Linguistica Historica 25.
Ito, R. & Tagliamonte, S. (2003) “Well weird,
very strange, really cool: layering and
recycling in English intensifiers” in Language and
Society 32, pp. 257-279.
Mendez-Naya, B. (ed) (2008) Special issue on English
Intensifiers, English Language & Linguistics,
Mustanoja, T. F. (1960) A Middle English Syntax,
Helsinki: Societé Néophilologique.