Anglo-Scandinavian language contacts and word order change in early English

Forskningsoutput: Typer av avhandlingarDoktorsavhandlingMonografi


This study investigates one of the most important changes that the English language underwent in the earlier course of its development – the emergence of a rigid SVO word order. Both internal and external factors have been identified in the literature as influential in the change. Among the latter, contacts with the early Scandinavian population have often been mentioned as providing an important early input. These contacts have also been regarded as one of the factors contributing to the erosion of case inflections, a change implicated in the gradual stabilisation of the SVO order. The main objective of the present study is to assess the role of these external pressures in the establishment of the new syntactic conditions in early English. In a more general perspective, this study evaluates the significance of language contacts in promoting changes in morphosyntax. This research also examines the relevance of an influential theoretical model used in the literature to explain the changes at issue, viz. Johannes Schmidt’s wave theory.
The material for the present study consists of two parsed corpora representing Old and Middle English: The York-Toronto-Helsinki Corpus of Old English Prose (YCOE) and The Penn Parsed Corpus of Middle English (PPCME2, Second Edition). Together, these databases comprise almost 3 million words and contain texts from different dialects. The frequency of occurrence of the (S)VO word order in particular dialect sectors is measured and compared from various angles relevant to the study. They include distinct clause settings, focusing on nominal or pronominal constituents of NPs in word order sequences, the potential impact of the date and genre of texts in sets, as well as exploring the differences in word order distributions between texts that are translations from foreign originals and those that represent native material. The multifaceted analysis of data aims, among other matters, to evaluate the usefulness of parsed diachronic corpora in tracking large-scale linguistic changes. The results show that (S)VO developed faster in the dialects of the areas affected by the contact, viz. the North and the East Midlands. This feature seems well established especially at the subordinate clause level. Furthermore, the highest normed frequency values for sequences with pronouns and nouns alike were found in the northernmost dialects. Both findings suggest a more external rather than internal motivation for the structural change. Evidence from genetic and archaeological studies, too, speaks in favour of a clearly marked Scandinavian zone, which temporally extended beyond the so-called Viking Era. With a repeated pattern of the most frequently occurring and most regularly distributed (S)VO particularly in the North, the connection between morphological simplification and the emerging new word order is more than likely. The prominence of the North within the dialectal spectrum likewise points to the existence of a focal area, which provided the starting point of linguistic innovations in a way advocated by the wave model. Set against the socio-political reality of medieval England, the results confirm the existence of a north-south divide, with the former constituting an auspicious setting for fostering changes of all kinds, including those occurring in the language.
KvalifikationDoktor i filosofi
Tilldelande institution
  • Östra Finlands universitet
Tilldelningsdatum15 juni 2016
Tryckta ISBN978-952-61-2114-7
Elektroniska ISBN978-952-61-2115-4
StatusPublicerad - 20 maj 2016
MoE-publikationstypG4 Doktorsavhandling (monografi)


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