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Events for the
Friday, February 08, 2013
  • Old Occitan as a verb-second language: The state of the argument

    Time: 02:30pm - 03:30pm 

    Place: Ballantine Hall 242


    Barbara Vance

    One of the most far-reaching discoveries of late 19th-century Romance philology was the recognition that Old French (OFr), like Modern German, had a word-order constraint placing the finite verb in the second position of the clause. In the late 20th century, theoretical tools became available to explain this constraint in terms of verb-movement and, consequently, to account for the asymmetry between main clauses, which demonstrate the verb-second (V2) effect, and subordinate clauses, where the effect is largely blocked. It has traditionally been assumed that Old Occitan (OOc) is also a verb-second language because it shares many word-order patterns with Old French. However, demonstrating theoretically the V2 effect for Old Occitan is considerably more difficult than for Old French, for several reasons (e.g. OOc has a larger number of main-clause types that do not, strictly speaking, observe V2 order, and OOc lacks the atonic subject pronouns that mark the boundary between the basic (TP) and expanded (CP) areas of the clause in OFr).

    In this talk I present two aspects of OOc syntax that lend support to a verb-second analysis of the language, despite some recent attempts to dissociate OOc, and in some cases Old French as well, from the V2 type instantiated by German. We will look at (a) the complex alternation between tonic and null subject pronouns, which makes sense only as a reflex of a V2 system and (b) the postposition of object pronouns, a phenomenon that not only suggests the presence of an asymmetric verb-movement rule similar to that of (V to C in) Old French but also declines during the 13th and 14th centuries in tandem with the decline of verb movement in French. These characteristics point to the value of continuing research on verb-second syntax as an areal phenomenon in western Europe, while also encouraging attention to the wide range of variation found among the languages at issue (Germanic as well as Romance).


    In category: Morphosyntax and semantics


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