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A variationist approach to syntactic change

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Abstract

This article focuses on word order in subordinate clauses in the history of Swedish, mainly Old Swedish (<i>c. </i>1225&#8211;1526) and Early Modern Swedish (1526&#8211;1732). In Old Swedish, subordinate clauses could have the same word order as main clauses with respect to the internal order between the finite verb and a sentence adverbial. This marks a clear contrast to Modern Swedish with its particular subordinate clause word order marked by the pre-finite placement of the sentence adverbial. By using variationist methods this article takes a sociolinguistic approach to syntactic change, arguing that the word order variation in subordinate clauses in the history of Swedish has to be explained in two different ways. During 1225&#8211;1450 the modern word order is restricted to subordinate clauses with pronominal subjects, and as long as the modern word order is restricted to clauses with pronominal subjects it is argued that the variation between old and modern subordinate clause word order can be described as a micro-variation in a system with obligatory verb movement and different subject positions. In Late Old Swedish, however, the modern subordinate clause word order started to occur also with non-pronominal subjects. The possibility of using the modern subordinate clause word order pattern independently of the subject type cannot be accounted for within one system with obligatory verb movement but instead reflects a macro-variation between two coexisting systems (with or without verb movement). During Early Modern Swedish one of these systems became predominant, and it is argued that this change is dependent on the sociolinguistic situation in 17th-century Sweden.

References

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