This book describes the historical emergence and spread of the
to-infinitive in English. It shows that 'to' + infinitive emerged from a
reanalysis of the preposition 'to' plus a deverbal nominalization, which
spread first to purpose clauses, then to other nonfinite environments. The
book challenges the traditional reasoning that infinitives must have been
nouns in Old English because they inflected for dative case and can follow
prepositions. Dr Los shows that as early as Old English the to-infinitive
was established in most of the environments in which it is found today. She
argues that its spread was largely due to competition with subjunctive
that-clauses, which it gradually replaced.
Later chapters consider Middle English developments. The author provides a
measured evaluation of the evidence that 'to' undergoes a period of
degrammaticalization. She concludes that the extent to which 'to' gains
syntactic freedom in Middle English is due to the fact that speakers began
to equate it with the modal verbs and therefore to treat it syntactically
as a modal verb.
The exposition is clear and does not assume an up-to-date knowledge of
generative theory. The book will appeal to the wide spectrum of scholars
interested in the transformation of Old to Middle English as well as those
studying the processes and causes of syntactic change more generally.