Negated subjects and objects in 15th-century nonliterary English

Richard Ingham

Using a large database of familial correspondence, it is shown that NP positions in 15th-century English were essentially those of Present-Day English, contrary to claims that the syntactic structure of Late Middle English still had a position for preposed object NPs, and that 15th-century English possessed multiple subject constructions with expletive there. The only form of OV order to remain productive in familial correspondence of this period occurred in the configuration: finite verb–negated NP–lexical verb. Neither ordinary NPs nor other quantified NPs were productive in this configuration. It is also shown that negated subject NPs, but not ordinary or other quantified subject types, were commonly found in multiple subject constructions. All these phenomena can be conveniently accounted for in terms of movement to a Neg projection (Haegeman, 1995). A theoretical account of noncanonical subject and object positions in terms of Neg movement thus receives strong empirical support from the distribution of argument NPs in 15th century English.

[Language Variation and Change (2002), 14:291-322 ]