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

Reconsidering the Role of Syntactic "Heaviness" in Old English Split Coordination

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

Reconsidering the Role of Syntactic "Heaviness" in Old English Split Coordination

Article excerpt


The splitting of coordinate structures in Old English has traditionally been attributed to structural size or "heaviness", assuming that long, complex coordinate constructions required increased parsing and processing effort. In addition to this, most texts on Old English syntax take for granted that the split elements always appear in clause-final position. The conclusions in this paper--drawn from the analysis of a large corpus of Old English texts--imply a radical revision of these assumptions. They suggest that the role of syntactic heaviness should be reconsidered, and its importance minimised in favour of other considerations of a pragmatic and discoursive nature. The analysis of the position of the split elements confirms that they appear in non-final position much more often than has been assumed, producing syntactic discontinuity.

1. Introduction

Split coordination (illustrated in 1a-c below) is considered as one of the most characteristic features of Old English syntax, along with discontinuous constructions in general. In spite of this, it can be said that no successful account of the phenomenon has been produced to the present date, and that a number of central questions regarding its nature and grammatical status remain unsolved.

1a) Her Beorhtric cyning forpferde & Worr aldormon.
    'In this year king Beorhtric passed away, and ealdorman Worr'
                                                      (ChronA 800.58).

b)  Se de god lufad & men he hylt ealle godes bec.
    'He who loves God and men, he remains faithful to the book of all
                                                   (AECHom ii 300.26).

c)  ... gif mon on niwne weall (...) micelne hrof & hefigne onset ...
    '... if a big, heavy roof (...) is placed on a new wall ...
                                                          (CP 383.32).

Some of these questions are:

i. What causes coordinate structures to split up in Old English?

ii. What is the position of the split elements?

Past studies of Old English syntax have rarely addressed these issues, as no large-scale corpus-based analysis study of the construction has been carried out to the present date. Considering that split coordination in Old English has not even been adequately described, the first aim of this study is to clarify some facts concerning the data, from where I will proceed to investigate the grammatical aspects that revolve around split coordination in Old English, analysing it from different linguistic perspectives such as syntax, discourse and information processing, in the hope of providing an answer to some of the questions mentioned before.

2. Method and materials

The method I have used in this paper consists of analysing all the instances of split subjects in a large corpus of Old English prose, as well as all the examples of unsplit coordinated subjects in the same contexts. (1) I think a comparison of both structures is more likely to reveal the underlying factors that govern split coordination than analysing examples of splitting alone, which has usually been the case in the literature. Lacking essential prosodic information (intonation, stress), which might provide crucial answers to many of the questions posed here, I have focused on the textual material, checking the relevant examples against different linguistic variables, carrying out statistical measurements of the data, and analysing the results in the light of recent linguistic theory.

The corpus consists of eight complete texts from the early and late Old English periods, arranged chronologically: (2)

Early Old English: Pastoral Care (CP); Orosius (Or); Boethius (Boeth), Bede (Bede); Parker chronicle (ChronA).

Late Old English: Peterborough chronicle ( ChronE); Alaric's Catholic homilies--second series (AECHom ii); AElfric's Lives of saints [volume I only] (AELS 1); Wulfstan's Homilies (WHom). …

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