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5.8 The auxiliary of doing used as a semantically empty finite auxiliary

The auxiliary of doing is dwo ‘to do’. It can be used as a semantically empty auxiliary which carries tense and agreement flection.


There are two constructions in which dwo ‘to do’ is used as an empty auxiliary. The first and more specific case is a construction in which a non-finite verb has been put in first position, and the empty auxiliary carries tense and agreement flection. Some examples are given below:

Jee, prigjen died hie ja uk.
yes topstitching did he indeed also
Yes, he also did topstitching.
Un uutsjo diede hie.
and out.look did he
And look out, he did.
Träfen dieden jo immer wät.
hit did they always something
There was always something they hit.

The construction is used to put emphasis on the main verb. Material in the middle field may be left stranded. Thus in the last example, the direct object has been left in the middle field whereas the main verb is in the first position of the clause. Note the variation in the infinitival ending: two examples feature a gerundial infinitive, one example features an ordinary infinitive. This verb preposing construction is the more specific case, and this construction also exists in Dutch and West Frisian. A more general construction is one in which any tensed main verb may be replaced by the infinitive of that verb while a form of the auxiliary of doing is used to carry the tense and argument inflection. Some examples are given below:

Wie lüürkeden wät die Ljude moakjen dieden.
we spied what the people make did
We were spying on what the people were making.
Wie moasten ap Träid weze dät do Iemen nit wächfljogen dieden.
we must on know be that the bees not away.fly did
We had to be in the know that the bees were not flying away.
Of sik dät um wät Goudes oder wät Truriges hondeljen diede.
whether REFL it about what good or what sad concern did
Whether it involved something good or something sad.
Wan dät Luntjen tou läip wäiden diede.
when the kindling too bad become did
When the burning of heath became too bad.

Most of the examples are found in embedded clauses, but there are also a couple of examples involving main clauses, which are presented below:

Dät Fjuur dät smuuljen.
the fire does feast
The fire feasted.
Seeuwends dät mie altied Eduard ouhoalje.
evenings does me always Eduard off.get
In the evenings, Eduard always comes to pick me up.
Wäkke dieden uk noch foar uur Ljuden spinnen un braien.
which did also yet for other people spin and knit
Some in addition spun and knitted for other people.

The empty auxiliary of doing most frequently selects a gerundial infinitive, but there are some examples in which the ordinary infinitive is found. The ordinary infinitive seems to be found relatively more often in main clauses than in embedded clause, but it should be checked whether this intuition holds up statistically. The non-preposing construction with semantically empty auxiliary seems to be more characteristic of embedded clauses than of tensed clauses; this intuition should also be checked statistically. In West Frisian, the auxiliary of doing is not used as an empty verb except when the main verb infinitive has been preposed. All other examples given herewould be ungrammatical in West Frisian. Sentences like those reported in this section are, however, very common in Low German, though not in the standard language. It should also be investigated whether the notion of habituality plays a role, possibly in main clauses in which the auxliary is accompanied by an ordinary infinitive (compare examples 8-9).

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