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‘Ye whom the charms of grammar please’

Studies in English Language History in Honour of Leiv Egil Breivik


Kari Haugland, Kevin McCafferty and Kristian A. Rusten

This collection of articles by colleagues and students of Leiv Egil Breivik presents studies within both core and peripheral areas of English historical linguistics. Core topics covered include the development of existential there and related phenomena, word order, the evolution of adverbials, null subjects from Old to Early Modern English, pragmatics and information structure and aspects of discourse. Contributors also address the emergence of new syntactic constructions in the past and present, language contact and aspects of style in Early Modern English letters and medical texts. The ideological discourses of children’s dictionaries and medieval letters of defence are also explored.
The essays are all empirical studies, based on a wide range of corpora (both historical and contemporary) and applying theoretical approaches informed by Systemic-Functional Grammar, grammaticalization theory, dependency grammar, historical linguistics, sociolinguistics and corpus linguistic methods. Issues of methodology, statistics and corpus construction and annotation are also addressed in several contributions.
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Kari E. Haugland: Þa rinde hit & þær comun flod & bleowun windas: On expletives and word order in Old English


← 2 | 3 → KARI E. HAUGLAND

Þa rinde hit & þær comun flod & bleowun windas:1On expletives and word order in Old English

1 Introduction

The term expletive is used in a variety of senses. An internet search with expletives and Old English as keywords will generally provide lists of early English profanities. In this paper it will be used with a less colourful import, as a syntactic term referring to nonreferential (or nonthematic) constituents like English it in It rained and there in existential and presentational sentences like There was/came a great flood. Both variants have developed through desemanticization of fully referential elements. They are expletive in the sense of the Latin etymon expletivus ‘serving to fill out or merely occupy space’, as their purpose is to lexicalize a syntactic position that requires overt expression.

The present paper will examine nonreferential uses of it at the earliest stages of English and in particular explore whether the historical development of this expletive pronoun can be accounted for by the mechanisms proposed for THERE type expletives, in English and in other languages. More specifically it will address the hypothesis that expletives originate as syntactic fillers of the topic position in verb-second structures.

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