The decline of local anchoring: A quantitative investigation

Bettelou Los, Gea A. Dreschler, Ans van Kemenade, Erwin R. Komen, Stefano Coretta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

This article presents a quantitative study of the referential status of PPs in clause-initial position in the history of English. Earlier work (Los 2009; Dreschler 2015) proposed that main-clause-initial PPs in Old English primarily function as ‘local anchors’, linking a new clause to the immediately preceding discourse. As this function was an integral part of the verb-second (V2) constraint, the decline of local anchors was attributed to the loss of V2 in the fifteenth century, so that only the contrasting and frame-setting functions of these PPs remain in PDE. This article tests these hypotheses in the syntactically parsed corpora of OE, ME, EModE and LModE texts, using the Pentaset-categories (New, Inert, Assumed, Inferred or Identity; Komen 2011), based on Prince's categories (Prince 1981). The finding is that Identity clause-initial PPs decline steeply from early ME onwards, which means the decline pre-dates the loss of V2. A likely trigger is the loss of the OE paradigm of demonstrative, which functioned as standalone demonstrative pronouns as well as demonstrative determiners, and the loss of gender marking more generally. From EModE onwards, main-clause-initial PPs that still link to the preceding discourse do so much more indirectly, by an Inferred link.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnglish Language and Linguistics
Early online date12 Apr 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Apr 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • English historical syntax
  • verb-second
  • demonstrative pronouns
  • information structure
  • local anchors


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