Triggering syntactic change: Inertia and local causes in the history of English genitives

Paola Crisma

in Grammatical Change

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199582624
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191731068 | DOI:
Triggering syntactic change: Inertia and local causes in the history of English genitives

More Like This

Show all results sharing this subject:

  • Historical and Diachronic Linguistics


Show Summary Details


This chapter brings order to the bewildering complexity of genitive placement in determiner phrase (DP) in Old English (OE). In OE DPs containing a determiner, a genitive, and the head noun, all orders are possible except those with the determiner after the noun. The four basic patterns are characterized as one structurally comparable to the modern s-genitive, one involving an incorporated genitive (as in modern N-N compounds), a postnominal genitive, and a pattern fronting the genitive from postnominal position. The first change in the system is loss of the postnominal genitive. Three subsequent developments are affected by this change: the reanalysis of genitive -s in pre-head position as a phrasal clitic, the development of by-marking for posthead external arguments, and the development of of-marking. The chapter shows that the notion of a prior change ‘affecting’ a subsequent one is complex: In the case of the reanalysis of genitive -s, for example, the earlier change does not force the subsequent one, but rather removes a cue that would have otherwise precluded the later change.

Keywords: genitive placement; Old English; determiner phrase; s-genitive; postnominal genitive

Chapter.  6790 words. 

Subjects: Historical and Diachronic Linguistics

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.