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Revisiting the Loss of Verb Movement in the History of English: Adverb Placement in Middle and Early Modern English

Applicant Haeberli Eric
Number 124619
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Département de Linguistique Faculté des lettres Université de Genève
Institution of higher education University of Geneva - GE
Main discipline German and English languages and literature
Start/End 01.02.2011 - 30.09.2012
Approved amount 145'346.00
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Keywords (10)

History of English; syntax; adverb; Middle English; Early Modern English; History of English syntax; Word order; Syntactic change; Adverb; Main verb

Lay Summary (French)

Lead
La langue anglaise a subi un nombre important de changements syntaxiques dans le cours de son histoire, notamment dans le domaine de l’ordre des mots. Ce projet a examiné de façon détaillée un changement particulier, celui du placement des adverbes par rapport au verbe, à travers une étude de textes couvrant huit siècles d’histoire linguistique (1150-1900).
Lay summary

La distribution des adverbes par rapport au verbe varie à travers les langues. Tandis qu’il est possible par exemple d’avoir l’ordre ‘verbe – adverbe – complément d’objet direct’ en français (Jean lit souvent ce journal), le même ordre n’est pas possible en anglais. La phrase anglaise aurait l’ordre ‘adverbe – verbe – complément d’objet direct’ (John often reads this newspaper), un ordre qui n’est pas possible en français. Mais ce contraste entre l’anglais et le français n’a pas toujours existé. Des textes en anglais médiéval contiennent de nombreuses phrases avec l’ordre des mots observé en français. Le but de ce projet était d’examiner, sur la base d’une étude quantitative et qualitative de nombreux textes écrits entre 1150 et 1910, comment le placement des adverbes a changé dans l’histoire de l’anglais. Nous avons pu identifier deux étapes majeures de changement dans la distribution des adverbes en anglais, une première autour de 1500, et une deuxième autour de 1700. Notre analyse suggère que la première phase correspond à un changement fondamental dans la grammaire de l’anglais tandis que le deuxième est de nature plus superficielle. Nous lions le changement autour de 1500 à d’autres développements dans la syntaxe de l’anglais, notamment un déclin de l’ordre des mots ‘verbe – sujet’ dans la même période.

Ce projet nous a permis de remplir une lacune dans la description du développement historique de la langue anglaise et de faire une contribution à notre compréhension de la nature du changement syntaxique.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 20.11.2012

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Revisiting the Loss of Verb Movement in the History of English
Haeberli Eric, Ihsane Tabea (2016), Revisiting the Loss of Verb Movement in the History of English, in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, 34(2), 497-542.
When English Meets French: A Case Study of Language Contact in Middle English
Haeberli Eric (2014), When English Meets French: A Case Study of Language Contact in Middle English, in J. Blochowiak C. Grisot S. Durrleman-Tame and C. Laenzlinger (ed.), Université de Genève, Genève, 1-18.
On the Interaction between Syntax and Morphology: New Evidence from the Loss of Verb Movement in the History of English
Haeberli Eric, Ihsane Tabea (2013), On the Interaction between Syntax and Morphology: New Evidence from the Loss of Verb Movement in the History of English, in Département de linguistique de l'Université de Genève (ed.), Département de linguistique de l'Université de Genève, Genève, 1-17.

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
19th International Congress of Linguists Talk given at a conference On the Interaction between Syntax and Morphology: New Evidence from the Loss of Verb Movement in the History of English 27.07.2013 Genève, Switzerland Ihsane Tabea; Haeberli Eric;
Séminaire de recherche Individual talk Revisiting the Loss of Verb Movement 02.07.2013 Stuttgart, Germany Haeberli Eric; Ihsane Tabea;
7èmes Journées suisses de Linguistique Talk given at a conference The Use of Parsed Corpora in Diachronic Syntax: A Case Study of Adverb Placement in the History of English 13.09.2012 Lugano, Switzerland Ihsane Tabea; Haeberli Eric;
17th International Conference on English Historical Linguistics (ICEHL-17) Talk given at a conference Revisiting the Loss of Verb Movement in English: ‘V-Adverb’ Order in Middle and Early Modern English 20.08.2012 Zürich, Switzerland Haeberli Eric; Ihsane Tabea;
14th Diachronic Generative Syntax Conference (DiGS14) Talk given at a conference Adverb Placement and the Loss of V-to-I Movement in the History of English 04.07.2012 Lisbon, Portugal Haeberli Eric; Ihsane Tabea;
Generative Initiatives in Syntactic Theory 3 (GIST 3) Talk given at a conference Stylistic Fronting in Early English? 12.05.2011 Gent, Belgium Haeberli Eric;


Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
143302 The History of English Auxiliaries: Evidence from Adverb Placement 01.03.2013 Project funding (Div. I-III)

Abstract

Languages vary in the distribution of verbs with respect to adverbs. A well-known example of this observation is the following contrast between English and French:(1) a. She often eats apples.(AdvV) b. *Elle souvent mange des pommes. c. *She eats often apples.(VAdv) d. Elle mange souvent des pommes.Various adverbs can occur between the subject and the finite verb in English (1a), but not between the finite verb and the object (1c). The French equivalents, however, cannot intervene between a subject and the finite verb (1b) whereas the order ‘finite verb-adverb-object’ is grammatical (1d). A similar contrast can be found with respect to sentential negation. In the theoretical literature, this variation has been analyzed in terms of variation with respect to verb movement, with French featuring verb movement and English lacking this process.However, English seems to have undergone a change in this domain of syntax as early English had French-style word orders (V-Adv/Neg). The developments with respect to negation have been analyzed in some detail in the literature in connection with the rise of do-support. However, almost no work has been done on the placement of main verbs with respect to adverbs in the history of English. The aim of this project was to fill this empirical gap and to integrate the empirical findings into the theoretical debate concerning the variation with respect to verb movement.We analyzed data from different parsed corpora covering eight centuries of linguistic history from 1150 to 1910. Two main phases of change in the placement of adverbs were identified, one around 1500 and a second one around 1700. Each of these is characterized by significant increases in AdvV orders. A closer analysis suggests that the first phase corresponds to a fundamental change in the grammar of English (decline of verb movement), whereas the second phase is of a more superficial nature, concerning usage frequencies only. In our descriptive overview of the development in the distribution of adverbs with respect to finite main verbs, we also examined the way in which adverb placement was affected by various linguistic and sociolinguistic factors (clause type, subject type, adverb type; genre, age, geographic origin). In the second part of this project, we examined the main theoretical consequences of the empirical findings obtained. Observing a time gap between the changes affecting adverbs and those affecting negation, we conclude that the loss of verb movement is not a one-step process. Instead, the loss consists of two distinct losses, the first one affecting movement beyond adverbs, and the second one affecting movement beyond negation. This analysis supports a sequential loss scenario that has been argued for elsewhere in the literature on the basis of entirely different empirical evidence. With respect to the causes of the change, we show that our findings are problematic for what has been called the "Rich Agreement Hypothesis". Instead, we propose that another syntactic change, namely the decline of a V2-like grammar towards the end of the Middle English period, may have played an important role in the loss of verb movement.Overall, this project has been able to fill a gap in the description of the historical development of English syntax. Furthermore, it has made a contribution to the debate concerning the cross-linguistic variation with respect to verb movement in particular by shedding new light on how and why a language may lose this syntactic option. Finally, this is one of first pieces of research that make almost full use of the currently available parsed historical corpora as it closely traces the development of a syntactic phenomenon over eight centuries and three linguistic periods (Middle, Early Modern and Late Modern English).
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