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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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Kristian A. Rusten: Null referential subjects from Old to Early Modern English


← 248 | 249 → KRISTIAN A. RUSTEN

Null referential subjects from Old to Early Modern English

1 Introduction

This article provides a quantitative investigation of the possibility of null-realized referential and generic subjects in early English finite clauses. Recently, corpus-based quantitative studies by Rusten (2010, 2013) and Walkden (2012, 2013) have begun to chart the occurrence and characteristics of this phenomenon in the Old English (OE) period. However, little quantitative attention has been paid to the long-term development of the phenomenon. Even so, van Gelderen’s (2000: 137, 147) influential account argues that null referential subjects are not restricted to OE texts, and that ‘pro-drop continues to occur’ in Middle English (ME), persisting ‘in [a] limited way’ into the seventeenth century (2000: 147). This claim finds some support in the traditional literature. For instance, Mustanoja (1960: 138) states that ‘[n]on-expression of the subject-pronoun of the third person, singular and plural, is quite frequent in OE and ME’, and also that ‘[p]ractically all the OE types of non-expression of the subject-pronoun are found in ME’. Additionally, Ohlander (1981: 37) argues that certain ‘types of such omission’ are actually ‘more common’ in ME than in OE. Thus, previous research has claimed that null referential subjects constitute a relatively frequently occurring phenomenon at both these stages of the language.

This article seeks to test the validity of such claims. Drawing on three treebanks covering the OE, ME and Early Modern English (EME) periods, the article will...

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