What does DO do? An Investigation into the Function of the English “Dummy Auxiliary”

Mike Klein

Major Professor: Douglas J Wulf, PhD, Department of English

Committee Members: James Blevins, Ted Kinnaman

Horizon Hall, #4225
April 12, 2022, 12:00 PM to 03:00 PM

Abstract:

Traditional syntactic accounts of English auxiliary verb DO have tended to regard it as a semantically empty space-filler (e.g., Chomsky, 1957), but its ubiquity in a wide range of English sentence types calls for a more substantive evaluation of its function. While a few attempts have been made to describe the semantic content of DO (Penhallurick, 1985; Tobin, 1999), none has been able to fully account for the appearance of DO in negative sentences, questions, polite imperatives, and conspicuous affirmation. This dissertation fills this gap by arguing that DO functions to "distance" a proposition from a speaker, so that the speaker may then do something with that proposition other than asserting it as a truthful statement. After demonstrating that this proposal is compatible with all of the various uses of DO, I draw connections between DO and functionally similar elements in languages as disparate as Latin, Mandarin, and Inuktitut, and address the incompatibility of DO with other auxiliaries and modal verbs.