Gower Bibliography

Chaucer and the Development of the Modal Auxiliary Ought in Late Middle English

Tajima, Matsuji. "Chaucer and the Development of the Modal Auxiliary Ought in Late Middle English." In In Manuscript, Narrative, Lexicon: Essays on Literary and Cultural Transmission in Honor of Whitney F. Bolton. Ed. Boenig, Robert and Davis, Kathleen. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2000, pp. 195-217.


CA is one of 37 late ME texts that Tajima cites in his examination of the history of modal ought, expressing duty or obligation, and of its derivation from the past tense form of the verb that became modern owe, which in OE meant both "to possess" and "to have to pay." He demonstrates that the modal use was fully established by the end of the thirteenth century; that Chaucer's use of ought "followed by an infinitive either with or without the marker to and in impersonal expressions such as 'him ought' " was entirely consistent with the normal usage of his time, contrary to what had been claimed by an earlier scholar; and that the modern use of ought "with an infinitive with to, and only with a personal subject" was established by or shortly after the mid-fifteenth century. He summarizes his findings on CA and on each of the other texts that he examines in the tables on pages 199, 203, and 210: Gower uses owe only once, as an expression of obligation, and he uses ought once to mean "to possess" and once to mean "to have to pay." His remaining 49 uses of ought express obligation, either in the present or the past. The infinitives that follow owe or ought either include or omit the to in almost equal numbers, and 30% of his uses of ought occur in impersonal constructions. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 21.1]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Language and Word Studies

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