The book is concerned with the interaction of syntax, information structure
and prosody in the history of English, demonstrating this with a case study
of object topicalization. The approach is data-oriented, using material
from syntactically parsed digital corpora of Old, Middle and Early Modern
English, which serve as a solid foundation for conclusions.
The use of object topicalization underwent a sharp decline from Old English
until today. In the present volume, a basic prosodic well-formedness
condition, the Clash Avoidance Requirement, is identified as the main
factor for this change. With the loss of V2-syntax, object topicalization
led more easily to cases in which two focalized phrases, the topicalized
object and the subject, are adjacent. The two focal accents on these
phrases would produce a clash, thus violating the Clash Avoidance
Requirement. In order to circumvent this, the use of topicalization in
critical cases is avoided.
The Clash Avoidance Requirement is highly relevant also today, as
experimental data on English and German show. Further, the Clash Avoidance
Requirement helps to explain the well-known syntactic structure of the left
periphery in Old English. An analysis positing two subject positions is
defended in the study. The variation of these subject positions is shown to
depend not on pronominal vs. lexical status of the subject but on
information structural properties.