IRCS Technical Reports Series

Document Type

Thesis or dissertation

Date of this Version

September 1996


University of Pennsylvania Institute for Research in Cognitive Science Technical Report No. IRCS-96-24.


Several recent studies have taken the approach that the word order variation in Early New High German (1300-1600) is indicative of a change in the underlying syntax. In this thesis, I argue that Early New High German (ENHG) was solidly verb-final in structure throughout its history and that the evidence for the existence of structurally INFL-medial sentences in ENHG is not convincing. I find no evidence of competing grammars in ENHG, and it is therefore notable that the loss of NP postposition between ENHG and modern German appears to be an example of language change due to a change in frequency of usage. In addition, NP postposition is shown to have a particular discourse function: forcing the postposed NP to be interpreted with narrow focus.

ENHG differs syntactically from modern German in allowing surface word orders that are ungrammatical or rare in later German. Three such syntactic constructions are investigated - - NP postposition, PP postposition and Verb (Projection) Raising. The postposition of clauses and prepositional phrases occurs in both ENHG and modern German. However, in ENHG, NP objects can move to a position after a structurally final verb, a movement that is not possible in modern German. Verb Raising and Verb Projection Raising, in which the relative order of verb forms is reversed from the standard order, are also much more common constructions in ENHG than in modern German. All of these constructions involve surface word orders which are not verb-last, and each occurs at an overall rate of 24-30% of possible cases in my corpus. The variation shows synchronic social, stylistic and discourse effects.

I argue that in the absence of evidence for competing grammars, the observed variation in string verb-last word order in ENHG should be understood as syntactic variation in an underlyingly structurally verb-final language. The decline of these three unrelated syntactic constructions between ENHG and modern German may be due to the imposition of a standard surface verb-last template from above. Such a change from above forces unrelated structures, such as NP focus postposition, Verb (Projection) Raising and PP postposition, to change in the same direction, in this case toward surface verb-last word order.



Date Posted: 13 September 2006