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Noun phrases in early Germanic (completed)

The project Constraints on syntactic variation: noun phrases in early Germanic languages focused on variation in noun phrase word order in Old English, Old Norse (Old Icelandic and Old Norwegian), Old Swedish, Old High German, Old Saxon, and Gothic.

Old book with gothic writing. Photo.

About the project

The overall aim of the project was to achieve a better understanding of syntactic variation between languages that are closely related to each other, and to model linguistic change in the light of constraints on variation.

Our basic assumption was that languages seldom display truly free variation. Hence, we wanted to find out which types of constraints are at work, and what the motivation behind these constraints might be, whether lexical, semantic, metrical or information-structural. Furthermore, variation is often considered to be a corollary of ongoing change, making synchronic variation a window on diachronic developments. The unique picture that this project sets out to draw relates to the way in which synchronic crossvarietal variation provides information about similarities and divergences in changes between languages that have a common ancestor.


EMPIRICAL and RESOURCE CREATION: to record in a web-based database properties related to noun-phrase internal word order in a broad range of early Germanic varieties. This information will be used to describe individual languages and to capture the constraints on word order in the different varieties. Our descriptions will be used to test, and if necessary, adjust claims about word order variation in existing literature.

VARIATION AND CHANGE: to use the empirical data to increase our understanding of the determining factors for syntactic variation, and the role of such constraints in linguistic change;

THEORETICAL: morpho-syntactic theories which have been developed largely to analyse synchronic data do not usually incorporate language variation. Yet, there is variation in all languages. In the final phase of the project we will compare how three different theoretical models account for the data captured in the empirical and descriptive phases of the project.


The project was funded by the Norwegian Research Council (grant no. 261847), and lasted for three years: 1 September 2017 to 31 August 2020.

Tags: Noun phrases, Germanic, Old English, Old Norse, Old High German, Old Saxon, Gothic
Published Feb. 1, 2017 2:14 PM - Last modified May 27, 2022 12:53 PM