Historical syntax at Universität Düsseldorf

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What is Syntax?

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Germanic languages

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Periodisation of English

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historical syntax

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The (Anglo-Saxon) Futhorc

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Word order 

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Pro-drop

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Negative concord OE

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Hypotaxis

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Manuscript production in Middle English

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Inflexion  ME

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Middle English verbs

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Exemplary flashcards for Historical syntax at the Universität Düsseldorf on StudySmarter:

Historical syntax

What is Syntax?

the structure of sentences and phrases

Historical syntax

Germanic languages

one of the branches of the Indo-European language family. Their common ancestor is Proto-Germanic (1500 BC)

Proto-Germanic developed into North, West and East Germanic. English belongs to the West Germanic group.

Historical syntax

Periodisation of English

Old English (Anglo-Saxon): c. 450 – c. 1066/1150

Middle English: c. 1066/1150 – c. 1476/1500

Early Modern English: c. 1476/1500 – c. 1700

Modern English: c. 1700 - now

Historical syntax

historical syntax

synchronic or diachronic studies of one or several languages.

Historical syntax

The (Anglo-Saxon) Futhorc

named after the first six runes

development from the 24-character Elder Futhark

simple lines that can be cut easily with a blade

Origins -> Latin or Greek alphabet

Brought by people from mainland Europe

the first evidence for the existence of English

replaced by the Latin alphabet from around the 7th cent., but was used until the 10th or 11th cent

Historical syntax

Word order 

at the NP-level

most frequent order

quantifier, demonstrative/possessive pronoun, numeral, oþer ‘other’, adjective(s), GEN noun, head

all modifiers to precede the N°, but postmodification is attested too


at the TP/CP-level

Pronouns occur near the beginning of a sentence

Main clauses show mostly V2, i.e. the finite verb can occur in second position

In subordinate clauses, the verb occurs mostly at the end

Wh-questions show subject-verb inversion

Yes/no-questions show verb inversion too. They are typically verb- initial (V1)

Not only AUX, but all finite verbs may undergo inversion

The negation particle (mostly ne) always occurs on the immediate left of the finite verb

Historical syntax

Pro-drop

Omission of an unstressed pronominal subject

Expletive pro-drop: no insertion of a dummy (pleonastic/ grammatical) subject it, as with weather verbs and in impersonal passives

Historical syntax

Negative concord OE

Old English is a negative concord language

Any negative sentence can contain multiple negative elements, but this results in only one single logical negation.

Old English shows contraction of the negative particle ne (na, no) with the following word:

Ne + lexical item(s)

Ne + functional item

Ne + functional item + ne

Historical syntax

Hypotaxis

Complement/noun clauses

Word order: OV & VO

Mood: Indicative & subjunctive

dependent statements and desires introduced by þæt or þætte

dependent questions introduced by a pronoun, an adjective or an adverb

non-dependent questions introduced by hwæþer (þe) ´whether

subordinate clause with accusative subject & infinitive

the to-infinitive is now the most extensively employed type, in Old English it was used less frequently and in fewer environments

þæt-clause was the most prominent form of complementation

Finite clauses

a range of question words

Finite object clauses always follow all other clause material

The conjunction þæt is sometimes left out, but not as frequently as in Modern English

Non-finite clauses

‘bare’ or ‘zero’ infinitive, ending in -an or -ian, e.g. þincan ‘think’, lufian ‘love’

inflected infinitive or to-infinitive, which consists of to, followed by a verb stem and the ending -enne, e.g. to þincenne ‘to think’, to lufienne ‘to love’

Adjective/relative clauses

Word order: more frequently OV than other subordinate clauses

Mood: Indicative (few exceptions)

Three major types of relative clauses

se relatives (non-restrictive relatives)

se þe relatives

þe relatives (most frequent)

se relatives

form of the demonstrative pronoun se as a relative pronoun

se þe relatives

combining a form of demonstrative se with the indeclinable relative þe:

þe relatives

introduced by the indeclinable relative þe:

Adverb clauses

Word order: (mainly) OV

More frequent use of the subjunctive mood

Compound conjunctions

the form of a preposition followed by the appropriate form of the demonstrative se

and the relative particle þe

Historical syntax

Manuscript production in Middle English

fewer documents were written in English

written in French

Latin was again used

less use of illustrations and more emphasis on the text

use of the Carolingian hand increased

Ceremonial manuscripts -> Gothic script

end of the 12th cent., the church lost its near-monopoly over the production of manuscripts

number of secular books increased

Scribal workshops diversified

the emergence of a merchant class who required official documents

Middle class began to demand books

The authors produced works in English on cookery, educational matters, medical manuals and literature

Some Middle English manuscripts still showed features of earlier traditions

14th cent. English again began to replace Norman French and Latin as a language of record

15th cent. -> clear distinction between the slow, “print” lettering of the book hands and the faster, more cursive book hands existed

Historical syntax

Inflexion  ME

all singular nouns were inflected for NOM and ACC

DAT endings underwent attrition and levelling,

The GEN survived as an inflectional category throughout the Middle English period

The reduced nominal morphology led to a morphological system in which singular nouns had two forms: GEN case, common case

15th century, plural nouns regularly took the ending -s

Historical syntax

Middle English verbs

person (1st, 2nd, 3rd)

number (sg., pl.), 

tense (present, past)

mood (indicative, subjunctive, imperative)

In Middle English, tense distinctions continued to be formally marked on all verbs

end of the ME period, there were just a few inflections

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