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The balance between syntax and discourse in Old English

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Abstract

Old English morpho-syntax allows a degree of word order flexibility that is exploited by discourse strategies. Key elements here are: adverbs functioning as discourse partitioners, and a wider range of pronominal elements, extending the number of strategies for anaphoric reference. The syntactic effect is an extended range of subject and object positions, which are exploited for discourse flexibility. In particular, a class of high adverbs, including primarily <i>þa </i>“then” and <i>þonne </i>“then”, define on their left an area in which discourse-(linked) elements occur, including a range of pronouns, but also definite nominal subjects. The latter occur here because the Old English weak demonstrative pronouns that serve to mark definiteness also allow specific anaphoric reference to a discourse antecedent. We also develop a model of quantitative analysis that brings out the relationship between the narrowly circumscribed syntactic system and the relative diffuseness of the discourse referential facts.

References

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