Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751
GELEYN, Tim and COLLEMAN, Timothy. Progressive constructions with bezig/besig ("busy") in Dutch and Afrikaans: a contrastive corpus study. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2014, vol.54, n.1, pp.56-74. ISSN 2224-7912.
Both Dutch and Afrikaans display three periphrastic progressive constructions, which indicate that an action is going on at a particular moment of time: (i) a prepositional construction with aan het/ die + zijn/wees, (ii) a construction with posture verbs (zitten/staan/liggen) with a to-infinitive (Dutch) or a coordinating verb (A frikaans) and (iii) a construction with bezig/besig followed by a to-infinitive (see, among others, Bertinetto, Ebert & De Groot 2000; Breed 2012; Donaldson 1993). This paper focuses on the latter of these constructions, which until now has only received little attention in the grammatical literature. In the instances in (1) below, the bezig/besig-construction is used to express that a volitional action is/was going on for a certain amount of time. (1a) Sowat elf brandweerwaens was tot in die vroeë oggendure nog besig om die brand te blus. (Die Burger, 12/01/1998) lit. "About eleven fire engines were busy extinguishing the fire until long into the night." (1b) Brandweerlieden zijn druk bezig een man te bevrijden uit de fel gehavende personenwagen. (Gazet van Antwerpen, gva2) lit. "The firemen are busy rescuing a man from the heavily damaged car. " However, progressive besig can also be used to express ongoing processes which do not involve a volitional agent - as shown in (b), Dutch bezig is hardly an option in such contexts. (2a) 'n Groot chaos is besig om onder sy neus te ontwikkel. (Die Burger, 06/02/1998) (2b) ??Een grote chaos is bezig om zich voor zijn neus te ontwikkelen. lit. "A great chaos is busy developing right under his very nose." (3a) Haar nuutste album is besig om goed te verkoop. (Die Burger, 06/02/1998) (3b) ??Haar nieuwste album is bezig om goed te verkopen. lit. "Her newest album is busy selling well." The aim of this paper is to examine the use of this construction in detail from the perspective of the grammaticalization theory, based on corpus data from six Dutch and two Afrikaans newspapers. Firstly, we show that besig in Afrikaans is used more often in a progressive construction than Dutch bezig. As is well-known, grammaticalization goes hand in hand with an increasing frequency (see, among others, Bybee 2003). Secondly, we show that the besig-progressive is more broadly applicable semantically than bezig in Dutch (host-class expansion, Himmelmann 2004). A semantic categorization of the types of verbs and subjects that are used with the construction indicates that the besig-progressive is used more frequently with verbs and subjects which seem incompatible with the basic "busy, acting"-semantics of the adjective besig: process verbs and inanimate subjects. It appears that besig has bleached from its etymological, "busy activity" meaning and is used as an aspectual marker denoting that something is going on, without focusing on the (complexity of the) activity, while Dutch bezig has to a large extent retained its "activity " semantics.
Keywords : Dutch; Afrikaans; corpus linguistics; progressive aspect; bezig; besig; grammaticalization; host-class expansion.