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On the givenness of OV word order: a (re)examination of OV/VO variation in Old English


OV/VO variation in the history of English has been a long-debated issue. Where earlier approaches were concerned with the grammatical status of the variation (see van Kemenade 1987; Pintzuk 1999 and many others), the debate has shifted more recently to explaining the variation from a pragmatic perspective (see Bech 2001; Taylor & Pintzuk 2012a), focusing on the given-before-new hypothesis (Gundel 1988) and its consequences for OV/VO. While the work by Taylor & Pintzuk (2012a) focuses specifically on the newness of VO orders, the present study is particularly concerned with the givenness of OV word order. It is hypothesized that OV orders are the result of leftward movement from VO orders, triggered by givenness. A corpus study on a database of subclauses with two verbs and a direct object, collected from the YCOE (Taylor et al.2003) corpus, and subsequent multinomial regression analysis within a generalized linear mixed model shows that OV word order is reserved for given objects, while VO objects are much more mixed in terms of information structure. We argue that these results are more in line with an analysis which derives all occurring word orders from a VO base than an analysis which proposes the opposite.

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We thank Olaf Koeneman and Peter de Swart, two anonymous reviewers and the editor for their comments on an earlier version of this article. We are also grateful to the audiences at SHES15 and the From Sentence Grammar to Discourse Grammar Workshop, held in Nijmegen in October 2017, for their comments on parts of this work.

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