Phrase structures in competition: Variation and change in Old English word order

Susan Pintzuk, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation investigates variation and change in Old English word order from the ninth century to the beginning of the twelfth century, with special emphasis on the position of the verb. It is demonstrated that variation in surface word order is primarily a reflex of synchronic variation in underlying phrase structure. A structural analysis of Old English syntax is presented, and it is argued that variation in the surface position of the inflected verb is best explained by the hypothesis of alternating INFL-medial and INFL-final phrase structure, with obligatory transformational movement of the verb to INFL. This variation in underlying structure exists not only at the level of the speech community, but also within the usage of individuals. It is shown that in the general case, the verb-second phenomenon in Old English reflects verb movement to clause-medial INFL in both matrix and subordinate clauses, rather than verb movement to COMP limited to matrix clauses, as in Modern German and Dutch. In addition, evidence is provided for alternating OV and VO phrase structure during the Old English period. Verb movement to INFL, together with processes of postposition, syntactic cliticization of both pronouns and adverbs, verb (projection) raising, and further verb movement from INFL to COMP in a restricted set of exceptional matrix clause types, derives the attested word order patterns of Old English. The results of a quantitative study of the underlying position of INFL demonstrate that the frequency of INFL-medial phrase structure increases during the Old English period at the same rate in both matrix and subordinate clauses, supporting the hypothesis of identical structures and processes in the two clause types. Finally, the above analysis of Old English is used as a basis for suggesting the nature of the syntactic changes that occur during the Middle English period.

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Recommended Citation

Pintzuk, Susan, "Phrase structures in competition: Variation and change in Old English word order" (1991). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9211987.