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PhD Research School in Linguistics and Philology

Øystein Imerslund Heggelund

Word order in Old English and Middle English subordinate clauses

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Initial project description:

"My project focuses on the word order of subordinate clauses in Old English (OE) and Middle English (ME). First of all, I want to find out what word order patterns subordinate clauses actually display in these periods. Many assumptions have been made about the syntax of subclauses, but only one previous study has tested these assumptions on a large corpus. Secondly, and most importantly, I will attempt to establish whether subclauses may have been instrumental in the shift from verb-second (V2) to verb-medial (V3, SVO) that English underwent in Middle English. It is generally assumed that the shift was the result of a change in main clause word order, but some scholars have claimed that verb-medial order was established in subclauses first, and then transferred to main clauses. My aim is to test this claim.

As the title suggests, not only purely syntactic but also pragmatic aspects of word order will be taken into account in the present study. Pragmatics, in this connection, is to be understood as the ordering of elements according to their information value, with a basic division between given and new information. The hypothesis is that pragmatic factors may have contributed to the word order change in English.

The corpus on which the study will be based comprises ca 6000 main and subordinate clauses. The main clauses are included as a point of reference with which the subclauses may be compared. Although the study is primarily a quantitative one, the findings need to be related to theories, both structural and generative, of word order and word order change. In the analysis of the clauses a computerized database, Filemaker Pro, will be used."

Heggelund successfully defended his thesis on 7 May 2010.