Preverbal word order in Old English and Old French

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Old English (OE) and Old French (OF) are often referred to as verb-second (V2) languages. While it is the case that the verb may appear in second clause position after a non-subject-initial element in both languages, they are dissimilar in a number of features. In this paper, we consider the preverbal elements of OE and OF main clauses in which the subject also precedes the verb. First we give an overview of the word order distribution of the preverbal elements. Then we go on to consider the syntactic implications of the empirical findings, showing that OF is a homogeneous language with true V2 syntax, whereas OE has a much looser syntax. In the last section, we show how the syntax of OE provides a frame within which contextual factors are allowed to play their part in a subtle manner, a possibility OF does not have. We conclude that using the tag ‘V2’ in a comparison of the two languages does more to mask their nature than to reveal it.


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