Bækken, Bjørg - Word order patterns

Bækken, Bjørg - Word order patterns

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This is a corpus-based study of the relative order of subject and finite verb in declarative main clauses introduced by an element other than the subject. The data are derived from approximately 3,000 pages of prose texts dating from c. 1480 to c. 1730, and the aim is to examine English word order as reflected in the corpus and the diachronic changes that may be evident during the period concerned. The investigation shows that verb-second order was quite common till the end of the 16th century, and a very radical change in the order of subject and finite verb appears to have taken place as late as the 17th century, in particular during the middle years of that century. In the development from verb-second to verb-medial order pragmatic factors appear to have been of crucial importance, favouring verbsecond order in some cases and verb-medial in others. The investigation discusses such features as subject realization, type of verb, the distribution of given and new information and the principles of end focus and end weight. On the whole, word order is shown to be governed by a complex interplay of a number of factors, and it may be safely concluded that a variety of features will have contributed to the sequential organization of a given sentence. Bjørg Bækken (born 1936) is Associate Professor of English at the Department of English, University of Bergen.


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