The interaction of syntactic change and information status effects in the change from OV to VO in English

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It is well known that the position of constituents in a clause is influenced by information structure: the cross-linguistic generalization is that given information frequently comes early in the clause and new information is placed towards the end. In this article we investigate the relation between syntactic change and information status on alternations in Old English and Early Middle English verb-object order, OV vs. VO. Our main hypothesis is that syntactic change and the constraints of information status are independent. The analysis we present is based on 1500 AuxV and VAux clauses from seven Old English texts and three Middle English texts. We consider three independent variables that influence the position of objects within the clause: text, information status and syntactic complexity. We build a quantitative model with syntactic change over time proceeding independently of synchronic syntactic variation due to information status and syntactic complexity; we then test the model against the Old and Middle English data and also against Icelandic historical data exhibiting the same types of variation. We show that the patterns predicted by our model show up clearly in both English and Icelandic, strongly confirming our hypotheses.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-94
Number of pages24
JournalCatalan Journal of Linguistics
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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