Quantifying information structure change in English

Erwin R. Komen, Rosanne Hebing, Ans M.C. van Kemenade, Bettelou Los

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)


The verb-second constraint in Old and Middle English made available a special clause-initial position that could host more than just the subject. Los (2009) suggests that this position served a discourse-linking function, expressed by, for instance, an adverbial. This allowed the subject to be reserved for human “protagonists”. It stands to reason that the loss of verb-second in the fifteenth century entailed a decrease in the prevalence of discourse-linking clause-initial adverbials. The subject took over the discourse-linking function, thus extending its functional load. This article tests four hypotheses concerning the changing functional load of the English subject. Our corpus consists of syntactically-parsed texts that have been enriched with referential information, allowing us to quantify the changes affecting the subject.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInformation Structure and Syntactic Change in Germanic and Romance Languages
EditorsKristin Bech, Kristine Gunn Eide
Place of PublicationAmsterdam
PublisherJohn Benjamins Pub Co
Number of pages30
ISBN (Electronic)9789027270467, 9027270465
ISBN (Print)9789027255969
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Publication series

NameLinguistik Aktuell/Linguistics Today
PublisherJohn Benjamins Publishing Company
ISSN (Print)0166-0829


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