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Revisiting the Loss of Verb Movement in the History of English: Evidence from Adverb Placement

Published in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory. 2016, vol. 34, p. 497–54
Abstract Most of the discussions of the loss of verb movement in the history of English have focused on data related to the rise of do-support. In this paper, we extend the empirical basis to evidence from adverb placement. Our analysis of the distribution of finite main verbs with respect to adverbs in a range of prose texts in the history of English shows that the decline of V-movement in English starts in the middle of the 15th century and that verb movement past adverbs is lost to a large extent around the middle of the 16th century. These observations differ considerably from what data involving the sentential negator not indicate. According to that evidence, the loss of verb movement is a rather long process starting in the 16th century and coming to completion over 200 years later. In order to reconcile the conflicting diachronic evidence from adverb placement and the syntax of negation, we propose that the loss of verb movement in English is not a single event but occurs sequentially. In a first phase, verb movement to T is lost while movement to a lower inflectional head is maintained. In a second phase, verb movement starts being lost completely. We show that the Rich Agreement Hypothesis, which has been very prominent in accounts of variation with respect to verb movement, cannot capture these developments in a satisfactory way. Instead, it is verbal morphology more generally that will be argued to play a role in connection with the occurrence of verb movement. However, we do not postulate a strong correlation between morphology and syntax and propose that the loss of verb movement in English is the result of a combination of factors: changes in the verbal morphosyntax (loss of subjunctive, rise of periphrastic forms), an acquisitional bias towards simpler structures, the decline of the subject-verb inversion grammar found in early English, and effects of dialect contact.
Keywords Loss of verb movementHistory of EnglishAdverb placementRich Agreement HypothesisVerbal morphosyntaxAcquisitional bias
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HAEBERLI, Eric, IHSANE, Tabea. Revisiting the Loss of Verb Movement in the History of English: Evidence from Adverb Placement. In: Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, 2016, vol. 34, p. 497–54. https://archive-ouverte.unige.ch/unige:93437

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Deposited on : 2017-04-11

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