Initial adjuncts in the history of English (and initial position in the history of French)

Kristin Bech, ILOS

According to Lenker (2010), the system of connectives (conjuncts) is restructured in the history of English, starting in the Middle English (ME) period, and co-occurring with the typological change English underwent from verb-second (V2) to SV syntax.

            Los (2009, to appear) suggests that in the V2 language Old English (OE), the first position of the clause was primarily a position for textual cohesion, similar to the V2 languages Modern German and Modern Dutch, whereas the presubject position in English became marked after the loss of V2, and is in Present-day English (PdE) to a greater extent used for text organization than discourse linking (cohesion).
            Hasselgård (2010) comments that initial adjuncts often have a scene-setting function in PdE. In an earlier study, Hasselgård (2004) compares PdE to the V2 language Norwegian and finds that Norwegian has a higher frequency of non-subjects, and also a higher frequency of adjuncts, in initial position. The anaphoricity of the adjuncts is not explicitly discussed, but we may assume that Norwegian uses initial position for text cohesion to a greater extent than English does, although Norwegian is probably less versatile than German in this respect.
            In sum, there is clear evidence that as English underwent its typological change, the function of the initial position also changed, and that English is now different from the other Germanic languages in the use of initial position. The present paper focuses on adverbial adjuncts, more specifically prepositional phrases, of which PP adjuncts of time and place are the most frequent. I look at how initial adjuncts link up with the preceding context in OE, and what happens to this type of clause linkage in the course of the ME period. I will also make a few comments on the initial position in another language that developed from V2 to SV, namely French, since the ISWOC project aims to study languages from a contrastive point of view.



Hasselgård, Hilde. 2004. Thematic choice in English and Norwegian. In Functions of Language 11.2, 187-212.

Hasselgård, Hilde. 2010. Adjunct adverbials in English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lenker, Ursula. 2010. Argument and rhetoric. Adverbial connectors in the history of English. Berlin/New York: De Gruyter Mouton.

Los, Bettelou. 2009. The consequences of the loss of verb-second in English. Information structure and syntax in interaction. In English Language and Linguistics 13.1, 97-125.

Los, Bettelou. To appear. The loss of verb-second and the switch from bounded to unbounded systems. In Information structure and syntactic change in the history of English, ed.   by A. Meurmans-Solin, M.J. Lopez-Couso & B. Los. Oxford University Press.


Corpus Linguistics Group, ILOS
Publisert 9. apr. 2012 20:59 - Sist endret 12. apr. 2012 17:13