Diachronic changes in long-distance dependencies

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Dutch long-distance dependencies representing four constructions (wh-questions, relative clauses, topicalization and comparatives) are studied from a diachronic corpus-based perspective. There is a steep decline in usage of such dependencies for relative clauses (but not free relatives) and topicalization, which we attribute to the rise of resumptive prolepsis as an alternative to syntactic movement. Our corpus data show that resumptive prolepsis is particularly common with relative clauses and topicalization, but hardly in use for wh-questions and not at all for comparatives. Long-distance movement therefore needs to be viewed from a broad perspective that includes the available alternatives to movement constructions, such as wh-copying and partial wh-movement, as well as resumptive prolepsis. The historical record shows more violations of the wh-island constraint for early modern Dutch than for present-day Dutch. We argue that this is linked to the near disappearance of long-distance movement in relative clauses and topicalization.


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