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Review of  From OV to VO in Early Middle English

Reviewer: Brady Z Clark
Book Title: From OV to VO in Early Middle English
Book Author: Carola Trips
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 14.1486

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Trips, Carola (2002) From OV to VO in Early Middle English. John
Benjamins Publishing Company, hardback ISBN 1-58811-311-6, xiv+359pp,

Announced at

Brady Zack Clark, Department of Linguistics, Stanford University.

In ''From OV to VO in Early Middle English'', Carola Trips marshals a
range of evidence to support the hypothesis that the shift from
object-verb (OV) order to verb-object (VO) order in Early English was
a consequence of contact with Scandinavian. This book has the
potential to contribute in two important ways to the literature on
English historical syntax. First, Trips provides a case study of
aspects of the syntax of the Ormulum (a text written in the 12th
century by Orm, an author of Danish origins), arguing that this text
supports her central hypothesis that contact with Scandinavian caused
the OV to VO shift. Second, Trips summarizes a good deal of recent
literature on variation and change in the relative order of the object
and verb in Early English. The rich potential of the book is marred,
though, by insufficient defense of the central hypothesis, unclear
reasoning at certain points, and a large number of editorial


The first three chapters of the book set the stage for the four
empirical chapters that follow.

Chapter 1, the introduction, lays out the goal of the book: to account
for the OV to VO shift in Early English. The empirical focus of the
book is restricted to Early Middle English; in particular, Trips
analyzes the Ormulum, while drawing on other work, such as Kroch and
Taylor (2000), to cover other Early Middle English texts. The main
claim of the book is presented here: contact with Scandinavian caused
the OV to VO shift.

The first part of Chapter 2 provides a quick overview of the
transition from Old English to Middle English, in addition to a short
history of Scandinavian influence in Early English. The final two
sections of this chapter give a helpful introduction to the Parsed
Penn-Helsinki Corpus of Middle English, Second Edition (PPCME2; URL: including (i) information about the
texts that make up the PPCME2, grouped regionally, and (ii) a tutorial
on CorpusSearch, the search tool associated with the PPCME2. The
latter tutorial would make a valuable supplement to a course on
historical syntax.

Chapter 3 provides a synopsis of possible explanations for how and why
syntactic change takes place. The chapter begins with an overview of
internal and external mechanisms of syntactic change. For internal
mechanisms, Trips summarizes Harris and Campbell (1995). For external
mechanisms, Trips focuses her attention on language contact, in
particular the discussion in Kroch (2001). The final three sections
are devoted to syntactic change and first-language acquisition,
syntactic change and language contact, and the spread of syntactic
change, respectively. Overall the chapter provides a nice synoptic
discussion of some current approaches to explanation in historical
syntax. The chapter would have delivered more expository value,
however, if it had included more discussion of other work on the
mechanisms of syntactic change (e.g., Kiparsky's 1996 mixed model of
the OV to VO shift) and sociolinguistic work on the interaction of
language contact and syntactic change (Thomason and Kaufman 1988,
Mougeon and Beniak 1991, Silva-Corvalan 1994).

Chapter 4 focuses on the OV to VO shift in Early Middle English, the
first of four empirical chapters that form the core of the book. The
first part of the chapter is a summary of Roberts's (1997) and
Pintzuk's (1991) accounts of the relative order of the verb and object
in Old English and the subsequent shift from OV to VO in Early Middle
English. Following Kayne (1994), Roberts assumes that Old English is
underlyingly VO and derives OV orders via leftward movement. In
contrast, Pintzuk argues that there is synchronic variation in the VP
in Early English; i.e., coexisting OV and VO orders in texts
correspond to synchronic competing grammars for individual
writers/speakers. Trips argues in favor of Pintzuk's competing
grammars account on the basis that Pintzuk's makes fewer assumptions,
posits simpler structures, and is embedded in a formal framework that
allows one to model the spread of syntactic change using quantitative

In the last part of Chapter 4, Trips turns to a discussion of OV and
VO orders in Early Middle English. The author shows that there is a
higher frequency of VO orders in those texts from areas densely
settled with Scandinavians than those texts associated with areas
outside the influence of Scandinavian. Trips concludes with a brief
account of how parametric OV to VO change may have occurred as
interference effects from Scandinavian in second language acquisition
by native English speakers.

Chapter 5 is a discussion of object movement in Early English. The
first part of the chapter covers object shift. The second part of the
chapter focuses on scrambling. In the first part, Trips gives an
overview of theories of object shift, arguing in favor of Holmberg's
(1999) account. In Holmberg's theory object shift is PF-movement,
blocked by any intervening phonological material in the VP. Trips
observes that there is no evidence for object shift in the Ormulum.
Pointing out that object shift was similarly absent in early stages of
Scandinavian, Trips argues (confusingly, see the critical evaluation
below) that the absence of object shift in the Ormulum further
supports the main claim of the book that contact with Scandinavian
caused the OV to VO shift (pg. 160). In the second part of the
chapter, Trips discusses properties and theories of scrambling and
concludes that in Early Middle English scrambling and object pronoun
fronting are found: in Early Middle English, object pronouns moved
very frequently and full object DPs could move, but did so only at a
low frequency. Both types of DPs (quantified and non-quantified) could
undergo scrambling, although quantified DPs moved more frequently than
non-quantified objects.

Chapter 6 focuses on V2 and the cliticization of subject pronouns in
Early English. The main contribution of the chapter is Trips's
exploration of whether or not the Ormulum shows the Modern Germanic
type of V2 (where both full DPs and pronouns invert in topicalization
contexts) or the Old English type of V2 (full DP subjects, but not
subject pronouns, invert in topicalization contexts), using the
position of subject pronouns as a diagnostic. The chapter begins with
a quick treatment of V2 in Modern Germanic languages and in Old
English. For the latter, it would have good if the discussion was
informed by a wider range of recent work on V2 and cliticization in
Old English; e.g., recent work by Willem Koopman (1992, 1997,
1998). Trips then turns to a discussion of several analyses of Old
English V2: Cardinaletti and Roberts (1991) (now published as
Cardinaletti and Roberts 2002), Roberts (1996), and Kroch and Taylor
(1997). Trips adopts Kroch and Taylor's account of V2 in Early Middle
English. Kroch and Taylor showed that the southern dialects largely
replicated the V2 (inverted subject DPs in topicalization contexts)
and V3 (uninverted subject pronouns in topicalization contexts)
pattern found in Old English, whereas the northern dialects displayed
more of a modern Germanic type of V2 grammar. In particular, Trips
shows that, in the Ormulum, in contexts with clause-initial
non-subject topics, the finite verb is nearly categorically found in
second position. Trips concludes that regional variation found in
Early Middle English in V2 and cliticization of subject pronouns was
due to Scandinavian influence.

Chapter 7 is devoted to the phenomenon of stylistic fronting, a
construction in which a head or phrase appears in subject position
where there is a subject gap. Trips main conclusion is that the
Ormulum exhibits stylistic fronting, whereas southern texts do
not. This finding provides further evidence, argues Trips, that
English was influenced by Scandinavian. In the first part of the
chapter, the author reviews some of the properties of stylistic
fronting and presents several theoretical accounts, arguing in favor
of Holmberg's (1997, 2000) account. Trips also discusses stylistic
fronting in Middle English, arguing that the fact that stylistic
fronting occurs frequently in the Ormulum supports her claim that
Scandinavian had a strong influence on the syntax of the northern
dialects of English. In the final part of the chapter, Trips contends
that stylistic fronting was used by Orm to save the regular (iambic)
metrical pattern of the text.

The last chapter of the book is a summary and conclusion.


The primary goal of this book is to show that language contact plays a
role in syntactic change. The author aims to reach this goal by
providing evidence for a single hypothesis: the Scandinavian VO word
order pattern came into the English language and drove out the Old
English underlying OV order. If texts from areas where Scandinavian
settlement was dense show syntactic Scandinavian characteristics, the
assumption that language contact plays a role in syntactic change is

How successful is Trips at defending the central hypothesis of the
book? As mentioned in the introduction, the originality of the book
is two fold. First, Trips gathers together for the first time much of
the recent literature on OV to VO shift in Early English. Second,
Trips presents a case study of the Ormulum. The literature review
provides a powerful reminder that there was significant regional
variation in the syntax of Early Middle English. Trips's case study of
the Ormulum should figure into any future study that attempts to
explain the source of this regional variation.

Trips stops short of successfully defending her central hypothesis,
however. There is too little discussion of the syntactic structure of
early Scandinavian languages. For example, Trips uncritically adopts
the assumption that early Scandinavian was (predominantly) VO
(pg. 102), thus obscuring the fact that there is little consensus on
the internal structure of the VP in early Scandinavian; see Sundquist
(2002: 343) and references cited therein for recent
discussion. Further, Trips's reasoning is sometime unclear. For
example, Trips claims that the fact that there is no object shift in
the Ormulum supports the assumption that early Scandinavian had a
strong influence on the syntax of the northern dialects of Early
English. It is not clear how the absence of a construction in Early
English provides evidence for or against the claim that contact with
Scandinavian was a major force in the OV to VO shift.

Other problems with the book are not related to the content, but are
editorial. I will briefly discuss these problems, in order of
increasing importance.

First, the index is very impoverished: readers may not be able to find
much of what they are looking for. For example, a good part of the
book is dedicated to a discussion of Kroch and Taylor (2000), yet
there is not an entry for either Kroch or Taylor in the index. It
would have been nice to have an author index, a language index, and a
subject index, rather than a single comprehensive index. An author
index would have been especially valuable, given how much of the book
is devoted to a review of the literature.

Second, it would have be easier to understand some of the Early
English examples if the glossed words were aligned with the
corresponding Early English text and if the examples included dates
(where possible).

Third, the majority of the book is given over to a presentation of
previous literature. As I mentioned above, it is important to now have
a review of work on the OV to VO shift in Early English in a single
place. Such a review could be an important supplemental text for a
course on English historical syntax, although I think Trips's book
falls short of serving this purpose because of the number of
typographical errors. Trips's aim to provide such a comprehensive
review of the literature comes at the expense of missing the
opportunity to bolster her central hypothesis. For example, Trips
could have spent more time discussing the structure of Scandinavian,
as it bears on the relative order of the object and verb.

Fourth, the book has a large number of typographical errors While
typos are to be expected in a book of the size, this book falls well
below reasonable expectations. I counted 213 typos on a second read
through the book. Many of these typos are trivial; e.g., spelling
errors like ''proceded'' on (pg. 103). A significant number of them
actually impede understanding, however; e.g., poorly formatted phrase
structure trees (pg. 300).

In sum, I hesitate to wholeheartedly recommend the book as a
supplement to a course on English historical syntax or as a resource
for historical syntacticians. While some of the book will definitely
have lasting value for English historical syntacticians (in
particular, Trips's analysis of the Ormulum), the book is hobbled by
bibliographic omissions, unclear reasoning at certain points,
insufficient information about early Scandinavian, and inadequate


I am grateful to Elizabeth Traugott for her comments. All remaining
errors are my own.


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Brady Clark is a PhD student in linguistics at Stanford University,
where he is involved in several research projects in historical
linguistics, semantics, pragmatics, and tutorial dialogue
systems. He received his BA in linguistics from the University
of Washington in 1997.