Chapter published in:Explorations in English Historical Syntax
Edited by Hubert Cuyckens, Hendrik De Smet, Liesbet Heyvaert and Charlotte Maekelberghe
[Studies in Language Companion Series 198] 2018
► pp. 23–50
“Permissive” subjects and the decline of adverbial linking in the history of English
Earlier work by Los and Dreschler (2012) and Komen et al. (2014) offered 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 thematic roles could be expressed by subjects, and for more strategies to create subjects, such as 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.
Keywords: Old English clause structure, information structure, Old English style, adverbials, subjects, valency
Published online: 13 August 2018
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