Morphological case and word order in Old English

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In this article I examine the effects of morphological case on the position of objects in Old English, in terms of both formal syntactic accounts and functional explanations. Quantitative analysis of Old English clauses with non-finite main verbs and NP objects demonstrates that overt case-marking, whether ambiguous or unambiguous, has no effect on the position of the object with respect to the verb. I show that a formal syntactic account with case-marking linked to feature strength fails to make the correct predictions for the diachronic trends. Support for a functional explanation is weakened by the fact that in most clauses, even those where the case of the object is ambiguous in isolation, the subject and object can be distinguished by other morphological, syntactic, semantic or discourse cues. I conclude that case-marking has no effect on the position of objects in Old English, and that it is instead determined by other factors such as heaviness and clause type and structure, as shown in previous work.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)381-395
Number of pages15
JournalLanguage Sciences
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 2002


  • Old English
  • morphological analysis
  • word order
  • case

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