The V2 pattern we have described for Old English is largely maintained in the earliest Middle English of the West Midlands and southern dialects, except for the complete loss of the INFL-final phrase structure option. This loss occurs in all dialects but is irrelevant to the INFL-medial cum V2 pattern, which persists into the fourteenth century. From the beginning, however, there are a certain number of exceptions to expected word order, and these grow in number with time. Except in Kentish, a particularly archaic southern dialect, we find by the mid-fourteenth century that the V2 constraint is clearly being lost. The analysis of the exceptions and how they increase is a matter of considerable interest, but it lies beyond the scope of this paper (see Kroch et al. 1995 for further discussion). We believe that the loss of V2 is the result of competition between the grammars of the northern and southern dialects. This competition, however, can only be studied once we have a reasonable picture of the competing systems, which is our goal in the present discussion. The texts we investigate in this paper are as close to pure representations of single grammatical systems as the surviving Middle English data affords.
In the North and in the Northeast Midlands, the areas of greatest Scandinavian settlement and linguistic influence, the history of the V2 pattern is different from the history in the South. Unfortunately, there are no manuscripts of northern prose before 1400, which makes direct comparison with southern dialects impossible; but evidence from poetry indicates a pattern unlike the Old English one. A recent investigation of the Ormulum (Morse-Gagné 1992), a very early Middle English poem written in Lincolnshire, an area of dense Scandinavian population, reveals that pronoun and full NP subjects are more alike than different in their behavior. Both exhibit nearly categorical subject-verb inversion in sentences with noun phrase objects in topic position. In sentences with adverbs in topic position, inversion is categorical with full NP subjects and variable with pronoun subjects. While we do not understand this variability, it is sufficient for present purposes to note that it does not follow the pattern described above for Old English, but is rather more random. We believe that the variability of inversion with pronouns in the Ormulum and other northern texts reflects contact of the Old English V2 system with a Scandinavian-influenced one and hope to show this in future work. For the present, however, we have fortunately found material, to be described below, in which this variability is minimized and allows us relatively direct access to a single, coherent northern grammar.