Grammar competition and word order in a northern early Middle English text

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Abstract

The Edinburgh Royal College of Physicians manuscript of Cursor Mundi and the Northern Homilies, a northern Middle English text from the early 14th century, contains unprecedentedly high frequencies of matrix verb-third and embedded verb-second word orders with subject–verb inversion. I give a theoretical account of these word orders in terms of a grammar, the ‘CM grammar’, which differs minimally in its formal description from regular verb-second grammars, but captures these unusual word orders through addition of a second preverbal A-projection. Despite its flexibility, the CM grammar did not spread through the English-speaking population. I discuss the theoretical consequences of this failure to spread for models of grammar competition where fitness is tied to parsing success, and discuss prospects for refining such models.
Original languageEnglish
Article number59
Number of pages29
JournalLanguages
Volume6
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 24 Mar 2021

Keywords

  • Middle English
  • diachronic syntax
  • word order
  • verb‐second
  • grammar competition

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