Old English is a West Germanic language with a syntax similar to that of modern German and Dutch. In several ways, however, its word order exhibits more complex variation than do the modern West Germanic languages. For instance, it freely allows postposition of complements and adjuncts, both nominal and prepositional, to the right of the uninflected, VP-final verb. This postposition leads to superficially free word order in texts, which misled some traditional scholars (though not all) into thinking that Old English was a ``free word order'' language. Recent studies have demonstrated, however, that the apparent freedom of order of the verb in Old English with respect to its complements or adjuncts results almost entirely from the greater freedom of rightward extraposition in that language relative to its modern West Germanic cousins (Kemenade 1987, Pintzuk & Kroch 1989). In addition, and of more immediate relevance to the present discussion, there is work by Kemenade, Pintzuk, and others on the V2 pattern in Old English; and they have shown that it too is highly patterned and rule governed (Kemenade 1987, Pintzuk 1991, 1993). Here too, the superficial behavior of sentences is highly variable, leading earlier scholars to say that V2 was only a tendency, not a rule, in Old English; but the cited studies have substantially reduced the amount of variability that must be postulated.
Pintzuk (1991) and Haeberli and Haegeman (1992) do demonstrate, however, that Old English texts manifest competition between two underlying phrase structures for clauses, one INFL-final and the other INFL-medial. Both main and subordinate clauses exhibit this variation, though main clauses are more often INFL-medial and subordinate clauses more often INFL-final. Examples of INFL-final and INFL-medial sentences from both main and subordinate clauses are given in (1) and (2) respectively. See Pintzuk's discussions (1991, 1993) for detailed analysis of these cases:
The relative frequency of these two phrase structures changes over time, with the number of INFL-medial sentences increasing steadily in both main and subordinate clauses. By the end of the Old English period, the language has become entirely INFL-medial, though the character of the reanalysis which leads to this outcome is obscured by the collapse of Old English as a written language in the early 12th century and the paucity of Middle English documents in the earliest period (see Lightfoot 1991, Pintzuk 1991, 1993 for further discussion). The existence of INFL-final main clauses in Old English indicates that, at some point before the period documented by texts, its grammar must have been consistently SOV and INFL-final, a configuration presumably inherited from proto-Germanic and ultimately from proto-Indo-European (Kiparsky 1994). Verb-second word order, as far as one can tell, arose and spread along with INFL-medial phrase structure; and by the time of the earliest texts, it was dominant in main clauses. In subordinate clauses, the INFL-medial structure also became increasingly common during the course of the historic Old English period. Significantly, only underlyingly INFL-medial clauses seem to be V2, showing that, unlike in German or Dutch, V2 sentences in Old English do not derive from an underlying INFL-final phrase structure. Instead, INFL-final phrase structure is a feature of the declining proto-Germanic grammar, whether it appears in main or subordinate clauses; and it is driven out of use by the competing INFL-medial cum V2 option. Pintzuk argues that the association in Old English between INFL-medial underlying structure and V2, and the corresponding absence of the German/Dutch derivational relationship between INFL-final and V2, can be explained only if we suppose that Old English is an IP-V2 language like Yiddish or Icelandic and not a CP-V2 language like German or Dutch. We agree that only this perspective permits an adequate explanation of the occurrence of INFL-final main clauses in a V2 language while also accounting in detail for the word order patterning in the V2 sentences of the language.
The range of superficially distinct word orders in Old English V2 sentences is broad and has been difficult to account for in a principled way. Pintzuk's IP-V2 analysis, however, accounts quite simply for the different word orders, without the postulation of numerous special rules or principles. We list here the types of V2 sentences found in Old English and explain how the analysis accounts for them. Subsequently, we will propose a modification of the analysis to relate it more closely from a theoretical perspective to standard treatments of Germanic syntax and to improve somewhat its descriptive adequacy.