The Loss of Verb-Second and the Switch from Bounded to Unbounded Systems

Bettelou Los

in Information Structure and Syntactic Change in the History of English

Published in print June 2012 | ISBN: 9780199860210
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199949601 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Studies in the History of English

The Loss of Verb-Second and the Switch from Bounded to Unbounded Systems

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This chapter discusses the consequences of the loss of the verb-second rule in Old English and Middle English for the organization of information in the clause. The hypotheses about the consequences of the loss of verb-second are inspired by crosslinguistic/psycholinguistic differences between Present-Day English (PDE) on the one hand and Modern Dutch and German on the other hand, but also involve diachronic work, some signposting is in order. The chapter is organized as follows. Section 2 focuses on the differences between the first position in PDE, where only the subject is available to link to the preceding discourse in an unmarked way, and the first position in a modern verb-second language. It argues that the development of certain types of it-clefts and passives in early Modern English is a response to the loss of verb-second syntax in terms of functions of the first position. Section 3 zooms in on the local anchoring function of verb-second syntax, against the global anchoring system of PDE, which obviates the need for links to the immediately preceding context in that language. Section 4 looks at the evidence of Old English as preferring local rather than global anchors. As the infelicity of local anchors in PDE is more a matter of pragmatics and information structure than syntax, this means that the data cannot be expected to show an all-or-nothing situation from one period to the next, although the changes in preferences by users should be visible nonetheless.

Keywords: verb-second; Old English Middle English; clause; Present-Day English; early Modern English

Chapter.  13955 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics

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