Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

The Word Order of Old English and Old High German Non-Conjoined Declarative Clauses in Different Text Types

Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

The Word Order of Old English and Old High German Non-Conjoined Declarative Clauses in Different Text Types

Article excerpt


The aim of the present paper is to compare word-order patterns of two West Germanic languages, English and High German, at the early stage of their development, on the example of one clause type, namely non-conjoined declarative clauses. The word-order patterns have been analysed for three basic text types (poetry, authentic prose and translated prose) in order to check whether text type has a similar influence on word order of those closely related languages. The paper is a fragment of a more detailed Ph.D. project entitled: A corpus-based comparative study of Old English and Old High German word order in different text types (to be completed in 2009). The most interesting results of the first stage of the study have been presented here. All details and aspects of the analysis which have not been included in the presents paper (e.g. word order of other clause types, the behaviour of objects and complex verb phrases) can be found in the forthcoming dissertation.

1. Introduction: Aims of the project

Linguists analysing word order in dead languages seem to be quite used to the idea that authentic prose texts constitute the only representative source of syntactic information. This is what our modern language intuition suggests: both poetry and translations are subject to different types of constraints that distort the syntactic structure and make the text less natural and less representative. As a consequence, it would be ideal if syntactic studies were based on authentic prose works. Yet, there is one problem that cannot be so easily solved: such sources very often do not exist. Some old languages happen to be relatively well codified, but this is not always the case, and the number of available texts is very often scarce. As a consequence, the choice is seriously limited and some times the only possible solution is to use every text that survived. The point is that linguists simply cannot afford to exclude certain texts on the basis of their form, because it would mean losing a substantial part of information about a given language.

Old English and Old High German are no exceptions, but their word order has usually been studied with the use of prose texts. In the case of Old English, the most common texts seem to be The Anglo-Saxon chronicle, analysed, e.g., by Bean (1983), and religious prose, usually homilies by AElfric or Wulfstan, studied by Davis (1997) and Kohonen (1978). Old High German is very much neglected in this respect and its word order has hardly ever been a subject of linguistic research. The only exceptions are: a study by Bernhardt and Davis (1997), a book by Dittmer (1998), both based on the Tatian Gospel translation, and a study by Robinson (1996) that makes use of the Isidor translation (all these works are based on translations; this problem will be discussed later). There is no study that gives a thorough statistical analysis of word order patterns in various text types, and only one work compares OE and OHG syntax (Davis and Bernhardt 2002). The purpose of the present study is to fill in this gap. To be more specific, the project has three basic aims:

* to compare word order patterns in Old English and Old High German, taking into consideration different text and clause types;

* to see to what extent text type determines word order and check if this phenomenon is universal (similar behaviour in both analysed languages);

* to check what exercises a more powerful influence on word order at this stage of development of Germanic languages: text type or language itself.

Davis and Bernhard (2002), in their pioneering work on West Germanic syntax, claim that Old English and Old High German should be considered dialects of the same language and that their syntax is virtually identical. The present study aims at examining this hypothesis in a more diversified sample of texts (Davis and Bernhard based their analysis on the Tatian Gospel translation and homilies of AElfric). …

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