Prosodic Triggers in Late Middle English Verb Second

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This thesis examines the sudden increase of Verb Second sentences with an adverb, pronoun, and auxiliary in Late Middle English around 1450 as found by Van Kemenade (2012). The hypothesis was that the effects of prosody (measured by the monosyllabicity of the involved adverbs and auxiliaries) together with a “then”-adverb effect, could explain this increase. The hypothesis was tested on a corpus of 333 Middle English sentences from 11 texts, divided into three periods: Early Middle English (1150-1250), Later Middle English (1350-1420), and Late Middle English (1420-1500). The analysis consisted of measuring and testing the different distributions of inversion within the “monosyllabic” and “multisyllabic” adverb and auxiliary groups over time, as well as within the “then”-adverb group. This was done with the help of the software CESAX, CorpusStudio, and SPSS. The results showed that Early Middle English and Late Middle English had different triggers for inversion. Early Middle English inversion was connected to auxiliary length, while the Late Middle English peak period had inversion connected to monosyllabic adverbs, and not to the length of the auxiliary. The “then” effect was visible in all periods. This means Verb Second word order is connected to a prosodic trigger in Late Middle English, the period that had increased Verb Second, and that a clear diachronic pattern that connects syntax to prosody is visible.
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