English is unique among the European languages in that it lacks V to T movement. My professor mentioned this loss occurred in Middle English.

If I remember correctly, we also acquired the auxiliary "do" around this same time period.

Is the acquisition of "do" and do-support into English related to the loss of V to T movement?


Auxiliary do has been around since at least the 10th century in a variety of uses, and one of those uses was the "periphrastic" (O she doth teach the torches to burn bright), which I take it is what you mean by "meaningless".

The restriction of S/V inversion to auxiliaries in negations and questions came much later: it was still present throughout Early Modern English and only disappeared from the 'standard' language in the 18th century; it lingered in literary use down to the 20th.

However, it strikes me as likely that the restriction would would have taken considerably longer, if it had occurred at all, if the periphrastic do hadn't been available to act as the 'dummy' auxiliary. The loss of periphrastic do is indeed pretty much contemporary with the rise of do support.

  • By meaningless I meant not semantically contentful. Is there a better term? Jan 4 '17 at 22:11
  • @Azor-Ahai "Periphrastic" is I think the usual term for the unemphatic use of do +tense + infinitive as an equivalent of V + tense. You could call it "modal" if that term weren't reserved for defective auxiliaries. Jan 4 '17 at 22:21
  • Maybe my use of "meaningless" was confusing, I was referring to do that is inserted in negation and questions, not literary periphrastic use. I edited it out of the question, does that make more sense? Jan 4 '17 at 22:23
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    @Azor-Ahai Use of do as a "dummy" is usually called "do support"; "periphrastic" do, however, occurs freely in affirmative sentences down to the 18th century, and lingered in literary use. I believe it's also still alive in some British dialects. The point is that do was already available when inversion was restricted to auxiliaries. Jan 4 '17 at 22:25
  • I understand do support derives from periphrastic do. I'm just trying to get my terms straight. Thanks for clarifying. Jan 4 '17 at 22:27

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