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A Historical Syntax of English

Bettelou Los

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Explores the many factors that influenced syntactic change in English

Aimed at advanced students, this book discusses a number of approaches to charting the major developments in the syntax of English. It does not assume any knowledge of Old or Middle English or of formal syntax, although students should be familiar with traditional syntactic concepts such as verbs and nouns, subjects and objects, and linguistic concepts such as morphology and case. Bettelou Los draws on explanations from both formal and functional approaches to explore how syntactic changes are the product of the interaction of many internal and external factors.

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List of figures and tables
List of abbreviations
Note on data references
1: Introduction
1.1: What is syntax?
1.2: What is syntax for?
1.3: Three dimensions of syntax
1.3.1: Introduction
1.3.2: Morphology or syntax?
1.3.3: The expression of the semantic roles
1.3.4: Word order variation
1.4: Word order and meaning
1.4.1: Introduction
1.4.2: Pragmatics and information structure
1.4.3: Discourse markers
1.4.4: Discourse routines become syntax
1.5: Interpreting historical data
1.5.1: Introduction
1.5.2: Sufficient data
1.5.3: Genre and register
1.5.4: Spoken versus written texts
1.5.5: Dating texts
1.5.6: The problem of negative evidence
1.6: Summary of points
Further reading
2: Nominal categories: The loss of nominal morphology
2.1: Introduction
2.2: Derivation and inflection
2.3: Inherent versus contextual inflection
2.4: Number
2.5: Gender
2.6: Case
2.7: The grammaticalisation of prepositions
2.7.1: To
2.7.2: Of
2.8: The expression of definiteness
2.9: Loss of morphology and word order change
2.10: Modelling morpho-syntactic variation of case and prepositions
2.11: Why is morphology lost?
2.12: Which morphology is lost?
2.13: Summary of points
Further reading
3: Verbal categories: The rise of the auxiliaries have and be
3.1: Introduction
3.2: Modality, tense, and aspect (TMA)
3.3: Lexical and grammatical aspect
3.4: Alternative expressions for aspect
3.4.1: Lexical items
3.4.2: Prefixes and particles
3.4.3: Positional verbs
3.4.4: In or on
3.4.5: Aspectualisers
3.5: The perfect
3.5.1: The development of the have+past participle perfect
3.5.2: The development of the be+past participle perfect
3.5.3: Competition between have- and be-perfects
3.6: The development of the be+present participle progressives
3.7: The passive
3.8: Summary of points
Further reading
4: Verbal categories: The rise of the modal auxiliaries
4.1: Introduction
4.2: The NICE-properties in PDE
4.2.1: Introduction
4.2.2: Negation
4.2.3: Inversion
4.2.4: Code (or ellipsis)
4.2.5: Emphasis
4.3: Modelling the NICE properties
4.3.1: Introducing the IP
4.3.2: Negation
4.3.3: Negative contraction
4.3.4: Inversion
4.3.5: Code (or ellipsis)
4.3.6: Adverb placement
4.4: NICE-properties in historical perspective
4.4.1: Inversion: From V-to-I-to-C movement to I-to-C movement
4.4.2: Negation
4.4.3: Code (or ellipsis)
4.4.4: Emphasis
4.4.5: Adverb placement
4.4.6: Conclusions
4.5: The verbal characteristics of auxiliaries
4.5.1: Introduction
4.5.2: Agreement and tense
4.5.3: Argument structure
4.5.4: Concluding remarks
4.6: The rise of do-support
4.7: Ragged edges: be, do, have, dare, need and ought to
4.8: Modelling the grammaticalisation of the modals
4.9: Summary of points
Further reading
5: Complementation
5.1: Introduction
5.2: Ragged edges: Usage and productivity
5.2.1: Introduction
5.2.2: Set
5.2.3: Make
5.2.4 Cause
5.2.5: Conclusions
5.3: The rise of the ing-form
5.3.1: Introduction
5.3.2: Origin of gerunds
5.3.3: From nominalisations to gerunds
5.3.4: The rise and spread of the gerund as verb complement
5.3.5: The present participle/gerund nexus
5.4:The rise of the to-infinitive
5.4.1: Introduction
5.4.2: Origin of to-infinitives
5.4.3: Diagnostic tests for clausal status
5.4.4: From adjunct to verb complement
5.4.5: Stage I: Verbs of spatial manipulation
5.4.6 Stage II: Verbs of firing up
5.4.7: Stage III: Verbs of commanding and permitting
5.4.8: Stage IV: Expressing ‘dependent desires’
5.4.9: Stage V: Verbs of thinking and declaring
5.5: Summary of points
Further reading
6: The structure of the clause
6.1: Introduction
6.2: The text
6.3: The word order of the subclause
6.3.1: Introduction
6.3.2: Identifying subclauses
6.3.3: Special positions for old information
6.3.4: Extraposition
6.3.5: And-clauses
6.4: Modelling S-(A)-O-V
6.4.1: Right-headed VP and IP
6.4.2: Verb raising
6.5: The change from OV to VO
6.5.1: Postverbal objects
6.5.2: Postverbal pronouns and particles
6.5.3: Postverbal stranded prepositions
6.5.4: Information structure as a diagnostic for change
6.6: Summary of points
Further reading
7: Verb-Second
7.1: Introduction
7.2: Verb-movement to the second position
7.3:Modelling movement to the second position
7.4: Verb-movement to the third position
7.5: The adverbs þa, þonne, þær and nu
7.6: Modelling movement to the third position
7.7: Early verbs in subclauses
7.7.1: Introduction
7.7.2: Main-clause-like subclauses
7.7.3: Extraposition
7.7.4: Verb projection raising
7.7.5: Left-headed IP
7.7.6: Conclusion
7.8: Charting the decline of Verb-Second
7.8.1: Introduction
7.8.2: Interrogative and negative clauses
7.8.3: Then, there, thus, so
7.8.4: Stance adverbs
7.8.5: Verbs of saying
7.8.6: Nominal and pronominal subjects
7.8.7: Discourse functions
7.8.8: The elevated style
7.8.9: The ‘late subject’ construction
7.9: Causes of the decline
7.9.1: Language-internal causes
7.9.2: Language-external causes
7.10: Summary of points
Further reading
8: Syntax and discourse
8.1: Introduction
8.2:Grounding, assertion and subordination
8.3: Foregrounding and peak marking
8.4: Creating suspense
8.4.1:The durative main clause+ oþ-clause pair
8.4.2: Durative motion verbs, AcIs and Verb-First in Beowulf
8.4.3: Durative onginnan/beginnan ‘begin’ and Verb-First in Ælfric
8.5: Correlative linking
8.5.1: Introduction
8.5.2: Complement clauses
8.5.3: Adverbial clauses
8.5.4: Relative clauses
8.6: From parataxis to hypotaxis
8.7: V-to-C in þa-correlatives
8.8: Summary of points
Further reading

About the Author

Bettelou Los is a Lecturer in the Department of English at the Radboud University Nijmegen. She graduated from the University of Amsterdam in 1986 and has since held teaching and research positions at the University of Amsterdam, the Vrije Universiteit, the University of Nijmegen and other colleges of high education. She participates in the research program The Diachrony of Complex Predicates in West Germanic, and has published several papers on diachronic syntax. Previous publications include The Handbook of the History of English, Blackwell, as co-editor (2006), and The Rise of the To-Infinitive, Oxford University Press (2005).


This textbook is a remarkable accomplishment: a very accessible combination of formal and descriptive approaches to syntactic change in English, incorporating the latest research. Unlike traditional accounts, it pays copious attention to discourse-pragmatic factors in syntactic change. An excellent set of exercises is included at the end of each chapter.

Laurel J. Brinton, University of British Columbia, Vancouver

This broad perspective of historical syntax incorporating findings of current research into the discourse factors motivating syntactic change makes this book an outstanding accomplishment. It is entirely appropriate for its target audience, i.e. advanced students of (English) linguistics... This book will be an indispensable textbook on English historical syntax for many years to come.

- Ursula Lenker , English Studies

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