Permissive subjects and the decline of adverbial linking in the history of English

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Earlier work by Los & Dreschler (2012) and Komen et al. (2014) offer quantitative evidence of a decline in clause-initial adverbials as discourse linkers in the history of English, and argued that subjects have taken over much of the function of discourse-linking that was earlier performed by adverbials. The greater functional load of the subject called for more flexibility in which types of hematic roles could be expressed by subjects, and for more strategies to create subjects, like crosslinguistically rare passives.The present paper draws attention to another mechanism that facilitates permissive subjects” in Present-Day English: causative/ergative valency alternations of the type Amazon shipped the order/the order has shipped. I present the morphosyntactic origin of the alternation, and report in more detail on the workings of discourse linking in Old English texts, explaining why “permissive” subjects were not required at that stage.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationExplorations in English Historical Syntax
EditorsHubert Cuyckens, Hendrik De Smet, Liesbet Heyvaert, Charlotte Maekelberghe
PublisherJohn Benjamins Pub Co
ISBN (Electronic)9789027263841
ISBN (Print)9789027201027
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Publication series

NameStudies in Language Companion Series
PublisherJohn Benjamins


  • adverbials
  • subjects
  • Old English style
  • valency
  • information structure
  • Old English clause structure


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