next up previous contents
Next: 6 Further grammatical comparisons Up: 5 The V2 syntax Previous: 5.1 The southern dialects.

5.2 The northern dialect.

Because of the gap in the surviving record mentioned earlier, the syntax of the northern dialect is not easy to investigate. Nevertheless, there is sufficient evidence to support our claim that northern Middle English was a CP-V2 language. Well before 1400, the date of the first prose texts from the North, northern texts (for example, the writings of Richard Rolle) as well as Midlands texts (for example, the works of John Wycliffe) show less than half of appropriate sentences inverting subject and verb in order to obey the V2 constraint (Kemenade 1987). The mixture of V2 and non-V2 sentences in these texts indicates competition between V2 and non-V2 grammars (see the references cited in note [4]); and, therefore, these texts cannot be treated as grammatically uniform.[16]

In surveying for descriptive purposes the syntax of all the text samples in the PPCME, however, we unexpectedly found that one northern text, the so-called ``Northern Prose Rule of St. Benet'' (Kock 1902), exhibits word order in V2 contexts that is not variable in the way that other late texts are. The Benet text is the first surviving prose document in the northern dialect and it comes from central west Yorkshire, hence either within or directly bordering the major area of Norwegian settlement in the North (McIntosh et al. 1986, Wells 1916). Until the rise of the cloth industry in the late 14th century, the area was thinly populated and isolated, due in part to the famous devastation of the region wrought by William the Conqueror. Hence, like Kent in the South, it is a plausible relic area in which a dialect once spoken more widely might have survived longer than elsewhere. Indeed, the linguistic evidence is clear. In sentences with non-subject topics, the text exhibits almost categorical subject-verb inversion, in accordance with the V2 constraint. Crucially, this inversion occurs whether the subject is a full NP or a pronoun and also independently of the grammatical function or lexical identity of the topic. In other words, the complex conditioning found in Old English and in the Early Middle English of the South is absent. The sharp distinction between the two dialects of Middle English is clearly revealed in the following table.[17]

Table 3: V2 in the Northern Prose Rule of Saint Benet.

As is evident, there are two major differences between the frequencies of V2 in Benet and in the Midlands and southern texts. First, pronoun subjects, instead of failing to invert in most environments, invert nearly as frequently as full NP subjects do. Second, there is no tendency for preposed adverbs and PP's to adjoin to CP; that is, not to trigger inversion. These differences show that the V2 pattern of the northern dialect differs sharply from that of the southern and give us an indication as to how it does. One possible analysis that we have discussed (Kroch 1989 a, Morse-Gagné 1992) is that the grammar of pronouns has changed in the North. Instead of being clitics of the Old English sort, they might have become like the pronouns of modern English, behaving syntactically more or less like full NPs. The plausibility of such a change occurring in the North is supported by the fact that it was into the northern dialect that the Scandinavian pronoun `they', a demonstrative in origin, was first borrowed (Morse-Gagné 1992). That borrowing could well have altered the syntactic character of the entire pronoun system. As we will see, however, the syntax of pronouns in Benet does not appear to differ from that of pronouns in the southern texts, apart from those environments where the grammar of V2 is at issue. Pronouns do eventually change character in Middle English, losing their tendency to move leftward, but this change is common to North and South and is not responsible for the differences in V2 patterning between the dialects.

The most evident defect of an appeal to pronoun syntax as the source of the differences in the V2 patterns of Benet and the southern texts is that it accounts for only one of the two major differences between those texts that are apparent from Table 3. As noted, in addition to what happens in sentences with pronoun subjects, the table shows nearly categorical inversion of full NP subjects in sentences introduced by adverbs or adjunct PPs. The character of pronouns is irrelevant to this distribution; hence, even if the pronouns in the North had changed character and so had come to invert in V2 environments, some additional difference with the South would have to be invoked to account fully for the V2 pattern of the Benet text. The obvious candidate is the difference between verb movement to I-zero and to C-zero. If the language of Benet were CP-V2, then, like German or modern Mainland Scandinavian, it should exhibit inversion nearly categorically when preposed adverbial and prepositional phrase adjuncts were attached at the CP level, where they regularly fail to trigger inversion in Old English or southern Middle English. Of course, as in German, there would be cases of verb-third word order as well; but, in general, we would expect elements that adjoin to CP in Old English to move to Spec,CP in Benet and to trigger inversion from that position. Under this analysis, categorical inversion with pronoun subjects would have to occur even if the pronouns did not lose their clitic status, because the verb would always move beyond the CP/IP boundary to C-zero, and so appear to the left of any subject, NP or pronoun. Thus, a single difference between the grammars of Benet and the southern texts would account for both of the differences revealed by our table.

Another problem with reducing the differences between northern and southern V2 to a difference in the clitic status of pronouns is that there is positive evidence for treating subject pronouns in Benet as clitics of the Old English sort. Consider the following examples:

Example (14) is an instance of stylistic fronting, a process known from the Scandinavian languages (Maling 1990) and found in all dialects of Middle English. It is possible only where the subject position is empty (Maling's ``subject gap condition''). The examples in (15) might also be analyzed as instances of stylistic fronting (and are not easily amenable to any other analysis), but in these cases there is a preverbal subject present. Such examples, however, are limited to sentences with pronominal subjects; and if the pronouns are analyzed as clitics which move leftward out of Spec,IP, then these examples too conform to the subject gap condition. Indeed, just such an analysis has been proposed for entirely parallel cases in Old Swedish (Platzack 1988). The application of Platzack's analysis to northern Middle English is clearly incompatible with the claim that pronouns in the North have lost their clitic status.

next up previous contents
Next: 6 Further grammatical comparisons Up: 5 The V2 syntax Previous: 5.1 The southern dialects.

Anthony Kroch
Wed Jan 10 09:14:48 EST 1996