The present study focuses on the description of the semantic features of phrasal verbs (PVs) containing the particle on and specifically aims at analysing the historical development of aspectual and idiomatic combinations in Late Modern Spoken English. From a historical perspective, the “figurative usage” (Kennedy, 1920) of PVs is a very interesting feature because it is the product of historical processes resulting in the PVs as they are known in Present Day English (PDE). This study is a corpus-based investigation conducted on the Late Modern English-Old Bailey Corpus (LModE-OBC), a corpus that has been compiled by using texts from the Proceedings of the Old Bailey and annotated with the Visual Interactive Syntax Learning interface (VISL). The findings reveal that there was a general shift from spatial to aspectual meaning and a relative stability in the frequency of PVs in the time span 1750-1850. It can be assumed that PVs “have undergone a lexical development from compositional to noncompositional” (Thim, 2012, p. 12), a process that led PVs from being literal to figurative in meaning (Denison, 1981, p. 108; Claridge, 2000, p. 47) due to the semantic shift of particles from a directional to an aspectual connotation (Brinton and Akimoto, 1999, p. 8).
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