LINGUIST List 14.1935

Tue Jul 15 2003

Review: Historical Ling/Syntax: van Bergen (2003)

Editor for this issue: Madhavi Jammalamadaka <>

What follows is a review or discussion note contributed to our Book Discussion Forum. We expect discussions to be informal and interactive; and the author of the book discussed is cordially invited to join in. If you are interested in leading a book discussion, look for books announced on LINGUIST as "available for review." Then contact Simin Karimi at


  1. Adam Werle, Pronouns and Word Order in Old English

Message 1: Pronouns and Word Order in Old English

Date: Tue, 15 Jul 2003 15:39:24 +0000
From: Adam Werle <>
Subject: Pronouns and Word Order in Old English

van Bergen, Linda (2003) Pronouns and Word Order in Old
English: With Particular Reference to the Indefinite
Pronoun 'Man', Routledge, Outstanding Dissertations in

Announced at

Adam Werle, University of Massachusetts, Amherst


 The goal of this book, a revised version of author's 
doctoral dissertation, is to clarify the word order 
differences between the Old English personal pronouns and 
full nominals, and discover whether the indefinite pronoun 
_man_ 'one' can be classified as one or the other, or must 
be relegated to a third category. On the basis of its 
ordering properties, van Bergen groups _man_ with the 
pronouns, and proposes an analysis of the pronouns as 
 Chapter 1 reviews the work that has been done on the 
word order of subjects and objects in Old English, drawing 
particular attention to an ordering difference between 
personal pronouns and full nominals. Pronominal subjects 
tend not to invert to a postverbal position after a 
topicalized (fronted) constituent, while nominal subjects 
do invert in this context. Similarly, pronominal objects, 
unlike nominal objects, are frequently preverbal. Van 
Bergen later uses the noninversion of pronominal subjects 
as an important diagnostic for the pronounhood, as opposed 
to nounhood, of _man_. Chapter 1 also contains a discussion 
of the corpora that were used for data searches; these were 
primarily the Toronto Corpus (13), and secondarily the 
Helsinki Corpus (17).
 The entirety of Chapter 2 is devoted to examining 
pronominal subjects' resistance to inversion after topics, 
and whether _man_ is similarly resistant to inversion. Van 
Bergen marshals a number of statistical comparisons of the 
behavior of various elements in inversion contexts. She 
finds that subjunctive and negated verbs make pronominal 
subjects more likely to invert after a topic. Once the 
effects of subjunctives and negatives are taken out, 
pronominal subjects rarely invert. Van Bergen concludes 
that _man_ tends not to invert in the same contexts as 
pronominal subjects, suggesting that it is to be analyzed 
as a pronoun.
 Chapter 3 refutes a possible argument that _man_ 
exhibits ordering characteristics of nominal subjects; 
specifically, that _man_ follows object pronouns when they 
are inverted to postverbal position, and when they follow 
the subordinator in subordinate clauses. Traditional 
pronominal subjects, by contrast, precede object pronouns 
in these contexts. Van Bergen demonstrates that the only 
peculiarity of _man_ compared to other subject pronouns is 
that it follows, rather than precedes, the object pronouns. 
In support of the pronominal status of _man_, she shows 
that it forms a cluster with the other pronouns that cannot 
be separated from the verb in postverbal position, and that 
cannot be broken up by other words. By contrast, inverted 
nominal subjects can be separated from the verb by a number 
of adverbial constituents (96), and from preceding object 
pronouns by various light adverbs (101).
 Chapter 4 presents van Bergen's clitic analysis, the 
meat of which is found in Section 4.3. The chief arguments 
that the personal pronouns are clitics are that they are 
strictly verb-adjacent in inversion, they do not alliterate 
in verse (indicating that they are, at least sometimes, 
unstressed, 163-166), they are strictly ordered within 
their cluster in the order SUBJECT > OBJECT > _man_, and 
this cluster cannot be interrupted by other elements, even 
light adverbs. Nevertheless, van Bergen acknowledges that 
the evidence for clitichood is not unequivocal (155). The 
final section of the chapter argues against a possible 
analysis of some or all Old English pronouns as ''weak 
pronouns'' rather than clitics (see Critical Evaluation).
 Chapter 5 considers various proposed clause structures 
for Old English, comparing them using the Government and 
Binding framework. The significant points of variation 
between the proposals are whether topics move to the 
Specifier of IP or CP, whether the finite verb moves to the 
head of IP or CP when it is in Verb-Second position, and 
whether such verb movement is obligatory or optional. Van 
Bergen adopts most of the proposal of Kroch & Taylor 
(1997), concluding that topics move to the Specifier of CP, 
pronominal clitics are adjoined to IP, and the verb moves 
to the head of IP or of CP, depending on context (197). In 
a final section, she concludes that topicalization and verb 
movement to the head of CP are in principle independent, 
though they usually do not cooccur (206).
 Chapter 6 briefly summarizes the book's main 
conclusions and offers some suggestions for future 
research. Van Bergen observes that the ordering of object 
pronouns and other possibly pronominal elements remains to 
be studied exhaustively, and proposes to pursue in future 
work a diachronic study of English pronoun orders.


 This book is clearly intended for scholars of Old 
English and the Germanic languages. In addition, van Bergen 
sets out explicitly (21-23) to make the book accessible to 
both philologists and theoreticians by separating the data 
sections of the book (Chapters 2 and 3) from the 
theoretical discussion (Chapters 4 and 5). This strategy 
enables a clear examination of the data on pronoun orders 
before a theoretical analysis is attempted.
 However, readers without some knowledge of Old English 
may have difficulty following the examples, as certain 
peculiarities of Old English spelling and morphology are 
not explained. These include the free variation between 
orthographic thorn (þ) and edh (ð) (representing 
interdental fricatives), and between the vowels <a> and 
<o>. The variation between the forms _man_ and _mon_ is not 
mentioned until page 167, though this is key to 
understanding examples containing _man_. Van Bergen also 
does not gloss verbal mood, assuming some ability on the 
part of the reader in distinguishing indicative verbs from 
subjunctive verbs, which is needed in order to understand 
many of the data on inversion, especially in Section 2.4.
 For a linguist not familiar with the literature on Old 
English syntax, the presentation is at times a bit hard to 
follow. For example, it is often difficult to keep track of 
whether we are currently concerned with the order of all 
pronouns or just of _man_, or with all clauses or just 
clauses with topicalization. This is due mainly to the 
tendency for a single point to run to several pages of 
examples and discussion, without enough reminders to help 
the reader keep up. This problem might be alleviated by 
more frequently summarizing the conclusions so far, and by 
more generous use of commas and paragraph breaks. It would 
also have been very helpful to provide more syntactic 
diagrams to illustrate the discussion of Old English clause 
structure in Chapter 5 -- e.g. during the discussion of the 
interaction of cliticization with topicalization on page 
 On the other hand, the book is thoroughly and 
carefully edited. I found only a single typographical error 
(page 167, paragraph 3 ''but if it the change'') and one 
cited reference not listed in the bibliography (''Tomic 
(1996)'', mentioned on page 150).
 In keeping with the book's grounding in philological 
tradition, there are several untranslated quotations from 
Fourquet, a French scholar of Old English (3fn1, 9, 18, 
121, 181-182). Admittedly, the import of the French is 
always plain from van Bergen's remarks.
 Aside from these complications, however, linguists and 
students of Old English will find a wealth of useful and 
illustrative examples, scrupulously checked and referenced. 
Indeed, by far this thesis's strongest point is its basis 
in a large data corpus, and the author's thorough treatment 
of the data. Copious examples are provided, yet all 
examples in the text were checked in printed editions (16). 
In addition, van Bergen corrects corpus examples when it 
appears warranted (15-16), and in several cases of Old 
English translations from Latin, checks the original Latin 
for influence on the word order. Van Bergen's willingness 
to conduct repeated corpus searches in order to settle 
small questions of description sheds light on some 
important theoretical points, as when she digs up several 
rare examples to demonstrate the possibility of 
topicalization in subordinate clauses (202-203).
 The book's greatest contribution to linguistic theory 
is in its analysis of Old English clause structure. Though 
van Bergen adopts a rather conservative version of the 
Government and Binding framework, she acknowledges that 
revision of syntactic theory is not a goal of this work 
(22). Rather, the theoretical contribution of Chapter 5 is 
to test various analyses of Old English clause structure 
from the past 15 years against a mass of hard data.
 Unfortunately, this book sheds little light on the 
prosodic status of Old English clitic pronouns (163-170), 
beyond observing that they do not alliterate in verse, and 
that _man_ was reduced over time to _me_ by the Middle 
English period. The pronouns' strict verb-adjacency in 
postverbal position suggests that here, at least, they are 
enclitic on the verb. However, whether they lean on a 
preceding or following prosodic host when in preverbal 
position, and in what contexts they can be stressed, must 
be determined by indirect means. Nevertheless, van Bergen 
gleans as much as possible from the available evidence, 
rightly acknowledging that the term ''clitic'' is tentatively 
applied to the Old English personal pronouns.
 The occasional references to the literature on clitics 
omit some recent work, possibly because the original 
writing of the book predates this work. For example, the 
discussion of apparently arbitrary orderings of clitics 
within clitic clusters on pages 149-154 does not mention 
the principled account of Spanish clitic cluster orders in 
Grimshaw (2001), nor the account of the order of Serbo-
Croatian _je_ in Boskovic (2001:125-131).
 The straw man analysis of the personal pronouns as 
weak pronouns that is refuted in Chapter 4 is set up rather 
half-heartedly, and van Bergen does not try overly hard to 
make it workable. This is due in large part to the fact 
that none of the scholars cited -- primarily Cardinaletti & 
Starke (1996, 1999) and Laenzlinger & Shlonsky (1997) -- 
has articulated a weak pronoun analysis specifically for 
Old English, and to the fact that they have significantly 
different conceptions of what a weak pronoun is. Here 
again, increased use of diagrams might have made the 
reasoning easier to follow.
 Although scholars of the history of English will be 
very interested in this book, it is not about the 
diachronic development of English pronouns. It is a 
synchronic study covering the heyday of Old English 
literature, i.e. mainly the tenth and eleventh centuries. 
However, several references are made throughout the text to 
the possible chronology of changes in the word order of 
pronouns (117-118, 147, 154fn33, 157fn35, 167). Van Bergen 
also states her welcome intention to pursue a diachronic 
study in future work.


Boskovic, Zeljko (2001) On the Nature of the Syntax-
Phonology Interface: Cliticization and Related Phenomena. 
Elsevier, North Holland Linguistic Series: Linguistic 

Cardinaletti, Anna & Michael Starke (1996) Deficient 
pronouns: a view from Germanic. A study in the unified 
description of Germanic and Romance. Höskuldur Thráinsson, 
Samuel David Epstein & Steve Peter, eds. Studies in 
comparative Germanic syntax, vol II. Kluwer Academic 
Publishers, Studies in Natural Language and Linguistic 
Theory 38. 21-65.

Cardinaletti & Starke (1999) The typology of structural 
deficiency: a case study of three classes of pronouns. Henk 
van Riemsdijk, ed. Clitics in the languages of Europe. 
Mouton de Gruyter, Empirical Approaches to Language 
Typology / Eurotyp 20-5. 145-233

Grimshaw, Jane (2001) Optimal Clitic Positions and the 
Lexicon in Romance Clitic Systems. Géraldine Legendre, Jane 
Grimshaw & Sten Vikner, eds. Optimality-Theoretic Syntax. 
The MIT Press. 205-240.

Kroch, Anthony & Ann Taylor (1997) The syntax of verb 
movement in Middle English: dialect variation and language 
contact. Ans van Kemenade & Nigel Vincent, eds. Parameters 
of morphosyntactic change. Cambridge University Press. 297-

Laenzlinger, Christopher & Ur Shlonsky (1997) Weak pronouns 
as LF clitics: clustering and adjacency effects in the 
pronominal systems of German and Hebrew. Studia Linguistica 
51. 154-185.


Adam Werle is a PhD candidate at the University of 
Massachusetts, Amherst. His interests include clitics and 
the syntax-phonology interface, language change and 
typology, and the Wakashan languages. He periodically 
conducts fieldwork on Ditidaht, a First Nations language of 
British Columbia. 
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue