Tracing overlap in function in historical corpora

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This paper investigates an overlap in function between object fronting and passivization in Old English, based on observations that these constructions in Present-day English and Present-day verb-second languages both perform a function of restoring the unmarked given-before-new order of information in a sentence. A study of the information status of the relevant elements in these constructions in Old English shows that the majority of examples indeed show given-before-new order. Quantitative data on the frequencies of these constructions in later periods provide suggestive evidence that as object fronting is lost in the Middle English period, the use of passives increases. This, in turn, suggests that the information-structural function remains constant while syntactic options to express it change.


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