Quantifying information structure change in English

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The verb-second constraint in Old and Middle English made available a special clause-initial position that could host more than just the subject. Los (2009) suggests that this position served a discourse-linking function, expressed by, for instance, an adverbial. This allowed the subject to be reserved for human “protagonists”. It stands to reason that the loss of verb-second in the fifteenth century entailed a decrease in the prevalence of discourse-linking clause-initial adverbials. The subject took over the discourse-linking function, thus extending its functional load. This article tests four hypotheses concerning the changing functional load of the English subject. Our corpus consists of syntactically-parsed texts that have been enriched with referential information, allowing us to quantify the changes affecting the subject.


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