Chapter

Language contact and linguistic complexity—the rise of the reflexive pronoun <i>zich</i> in a fifteenth-century Netherlands border dialect

Gertjan Postma

in Grammatical Change

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199582624
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191731068 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199582624.003.0007
Language contact and linguistic complexity—the rise of the reflexive pronoun zich in a fifteenth-century Netherlands border dialect

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This chapter examines a prototypical case of grammatical borrowing from a neighbouring language: the introduction of the reflexive pronoun in the Lower Countries from the late Middle Ages onwards. While Middle Dutch did not make a distinction between local and non-local binding using pronominal (e.g., English ‘him’) and reflexive pronouns (e.g., English ‘himself’), Dutch dialects began using sich ‘himself’ as a reflexive, borrowed from neighbouring German dialects. From a language where binding features did not seem to play a role, Dutch developed into a language where binding features are fully active. The chapter demonstrates that the change has not been triggered by an imposition of the binding features (anaphoric/pronominal) from outside, through prestige of the Eastern grammatical system, but that it was internally triggered. It was triggered by the decline of a marked parameter setting that neutralized the Binding Theory. The chapter shows that rules of Universal Grammar are active in a change that was fuelled by simplification through internal areal convergence in this globalizing and state-building period of the Low Countries. Internal factors created a gap in the system, which attracted the Eastern reflexive forms.

Keywords: grammatical borrowing; reflexive pronouns; Middle Dutch; pronominals; binding

Chapter.  8022 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Historical and Diachronic Linguistics

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