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Syntactic effects of contact in translations: evidence from object pronoun placement in Middle English

  • ERIC HAEBERLI (a1)

Abstract

Whereas object pronouns regularly occurred before the main verb in Old and early Middle English, such word orders were to a large extent lost in Middle English prose by the end of the thirteenth century. Nevertheless, some isolated later texts still show regular preverbal occurrences of object pronouns. Such word orders are most frequent with three texts that are translations of French sources. This article closely examines one of these texts, the Middle English prose Brut, and its source, and argues that contact influence is the most plausible explanation for its distinct behaviour with respect to object pronoun placement. It is also shown that the translator does not slavishly follow his source and that the contact effects are mainly of the statistical type in that word orders occurring very marginally in other texts appear with high frequencies in the Brut while such a contrast is not found for a word order that is unattested elsewhere. These observations are compatible with the equally exceptional but slightly different distribution of object pronouns in another translation from French, the Ayenbite of Inwyt. The findings of this article show that translation-induced contact and, possibly, contact in bilingual language use more generally can have important quantitative effects and that these have to be seriously considered in any syntactic analysis of historical texts based on a foreign source text.

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References

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