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The Diachrony of Pronouns and Demonstratives: Feature Economy meets Old Norse. Elly van Gelderen Tucson, 18 November 2011 Aims.

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the diachrony of pronouns and demonstratives feature economy meets old norse

The Diachrony of Pronouns and Demonstratives:Feature Economy meets Old Norse

Elly van Gelderen

Tucson, 18 November 2011


To examine the distribution of pronouns and demonstratives in Old English (but relevant in other languages too) and discuss licensing of pro-drop.

To explain this in terms of the child interpreting input in a particular way through Feature Economy

To examine internal and external factors of linguistic change and their interaction

why is change interesting
Why is change interesting?

If these are real patterns of change,

then they give insight in the Faculty of Language


1. Genetic endowment

2. Experience

3. Principles not specific to language

language change
Language Change =

Cycles are the result of reanalysis by the language learner who apply Economy Principles. I argue that the real sources of change are internal principles.

cues and inertia
Cues and Inertia

This is very different from models such as Lightfoot's and Westergaard’s that examine how much input a child needs to reset a parameter. According to Lightfoot, "children scan their linguistic environment for structural cues" (2006: 32); for these, change comes from the outside.

And from Keenan’s (1996; 2002) Inertia.

if there are economy principles they should be visible in lg change
If there are Economy Principles, they should be visible in Lg Change

Two main patterns (van Gelderen 2004 etc):

a) Phrase to Head

b) Up the tree: both phrases and heads

Principles: acquisition and derivation

reanalysis of how
Reanalysis of `how’:

(1) How would you like to go to the game?

`Would you like to go to the game?’

(2) Dwyer told the players how he wanted to win

‘D. told the players that he wanted to win.’

(from the BNC as given by Willis 2007: 434)

lexical economy
Lexical Economy?

Relevance of the third factor for acquisition?

If all variation is in the lexicon, is there third factor `help’ for the learner there?

Yes, Feature Economy: if you have a LI with semantic features, use it as i-F, and use it with u-F.

minimalist features
Minimalist features

The Semantic features of lexical items

The interpretable ones relevant at the Conceptual-Intentional interface.

Uninterpretable features act as `glue’ so to speak to help out merge.For instance, person and number features (=phi-features) are interpretable on nouns but not on verbs.

pronouns agreement variation in the lexicon
Pronouns = Agreement; variation in the lexicon

English me French je

i-phi u-phi

(=i-ps) (=u-ps)

s/he il/elle

i-phi i-phi

(=i-deictic) (=i-deictic)

what are some of the features
What are some of the features?



T vP

[u-phi] DP v'

[i-T] She v VP

[u-T] saw [i-phi] [u-phi] DP V’

[i-ASP] bears V



typical changes
Typical changes:

(1) demonstrative > third person pron > clitic > agreement

(2) oblique > emphatic > first/second pron > clitic > agreement



demonstrative > personal > agreement

[i-phi] [i-phi] [u-phi]

[i-deixis] [u-Case]

ille il il+V

semantic grammatical
Semantic > Grammatical

Chomsky (1995: 230; 381) "formal features have semantic correlates and reflect semantic properties (accusative Case and transitivity, for example)." This makes sense if a language learner uses the semantic features in the derivation, these features turning into interpretable ones so to speak.

features of the english dp
Features of the English DP

(1) a. *That the dog loves their the toys.

b. I saw that.

c. *I saw the.

(2) DP DP

that D’ D NP

[i-loc] D NP the 3S

[i-ps] 3S [u-phi]

oe demonstrative ps
OE demonstrative: +Ps

(1) hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon

how those nobles courage did

'how the nobles performed heroic acts' (Beowulf 3)

(2) se wæs Wine haten & se wæs in Gallia rice gehalgod.

he was wine called and he was in Gaul consecrated

from demonstrative to article
From Demonstrative to article:

(1) gife to … þa munecas of þe mynstre

give to … the monks of the abbey (Peterborough Chron 1150)

(2) & gaddresst swa þe clene corn All fra þe chaff togeddre

and gather-2S so the clean wheat all from the chaff together

`and so you gather the clear wheat from the chaff.’ (Ormulum 1484-5, Holt edition)

(3) *the (Wood 2003: 69)

reduction of the article and renewal
Reduction of the article and renewal

(3) Morret's brother came out of Scoteland for th'acceptacion of the peax

(The Diary of Edward VI, 1550s)

(4) Oh they used to be ever so funny houses you know and in them days … They used to have big windows, but they used to a all be them there little tiny ones like that. (BNC - FYD 72)

pronouns demonstratives and pro drop
Pronouns, demonstratives, and pro-drop

(1) þæt fram ham gefrægn Higelaces þegn, god mid Geatum, Grendles dæda; se wæs moncynnes mægenes strengest on þæm dæge þysses lifes, æþele ond eacen. Het him yðlidan godne gegyrwan, cwæð, heguðcyning ofer swanrade secean wolde, mærne þeoden, þa him wæs manna þearf. ðone siðfæt him snotere ceorlas lythwon logon, þeah he him leof wære.

`Hygelac’s thane heard about Grendel’s deeds while in Geatland; he (=Hygelac’s thane) was mankind’s strongest man on earth, noble and powerful. (He) ordered himself a good boat prepared and said that he wanted to seek the king over the sea since he (=the king) needed men. Wise men did not stop him (=Hygelac’s thane) though he was dear to them.’ (Beowulf 194-98)

traugott 1992 171
Traugott (1992: 171)

(2) Þa clypode an ðæra manna Zebeus gehaten and cwæð to ðam cyninge;

`Then cried one of-the men Zebeus called and said to the king:

Eala ðu cyning þas fulan wuhta þu scoldest awurpan of ðinum rice.

Oh you king the foul creatures you should throw-out of your kingdom

ðylæs ðe hi mid heora fylðe us ealle besmiton;

in-case that they [= the foul creatures] with their filth us all affect

Hi habbað mid him awyriedne engel. mancynnes feond.

They [= the foul creatures] have with them corrupt angel, mankind’s enemy

and se hæfð andweald on ðam mannum ðe heora scyppend forseoð.

and he [the angel] has power over those men that their creator despise

and to deofolgyldum bugað;

and to idols bow.’

(DOE Segment 8 Ælfric’s Catholic Homilies, second series M. Godden 1979, p. 283. 110 – 115)

cf dutch
Cf. Dutch:

(3) Hij had Stern gesproken en aan deze enige woorden en zaken uitgelegd, die hij niet begreep. Die Stern niet begreep, meen ik.

`He had talked to Stern and explained to this one some words and matters which he did not understand. Which Stern did not understand, I mean'. (Multatuli, Max Havelaar, chap 4, van Gelderen 1998).

changes in c12 e g she
Changes in C12, e.g. `she’

(1) þæræfter toforan Candelmæssan on Windlesoran him to wife forgyfen Aðelis & syððan to cwene gehalgod. seo wæs þæs heretogan dohtor of Luuaine.

thereafter before Candlemas at Windsor was given him to wife Adela and after hallowed queen. She was the duke of Louvain’s daughter.’ (PC 1121)

(2) He brohte his wif to Engleland. & dide hire in þe castel on Canteberi. God wimman scæ wæs. oc scæ hedde litel blisse mid him.

`He brought his wife to England and put her in a castle in Canterbury. She was a good woman but she had little bliss with him. (PC 1140)

(3) 3ho wass … Elysabæþ 3ehatenn

`She was called Elisabeth.’ (Ormulum 115)

third plural demonstrative pronouns and reflexives
Third plural, demonstrative pronouns, and reflexives

(1)& swa þe33 leddenn heore lif Till þatt te33 wærenn alde

`and so they led their lives until they were old.’ (Ormulum 125-6)

(2) For he and he had samen ben, forwit selcuth wrath.

`Because they had together been debating.’ (Cursor Mundi, Cotton 16161)

(3) mon forgit his selfes ... he sceal hine selfne geðencean

man forgets his-GEN self-GEN ... he must him-ACC self-ACC remember

`man forgets himself ... he must remember himself.' (Alfred, Pastoral Care, 34.7)

what happens
What happens?

Externally: a `strengthening’ of the third person features in the pronoun and a shift in the relationship with the demonstrative.

This reinforcement through external pronouns, she and they, brought about a reanalysis of the features of the pronoun as deictic.

Matthew White’s map

around 1200 a reanalysis
Around 1200: a reanalysis

(1) & gaddresst swa þe clene corn

`and so you gather the clear wheat.’ (Ormulum 1484-5, Holt edition)

(2) 3ho wass … Elysabæþ 3ehatenn

`She was called Elisabeth.’ (Ormulum 115)

(3) & swa þe33 leddenn heore lif Till þatt te33 wærenn alde

`and so they led their lives until they were old.’ (Ormulum 125-6)

(4) þin forrme win iss swiþe god, þin lattre win iss bettre.

`Your earlier wine is very good, your later wine is better.’ (Ormulum 15409)

internal external
Internal External

se --> the seo --> she

that --> that hi --> they

him/her --> himself/herself

a. se > the

[i-loc]/[i-phi] [u-T]/[u-ps]

that +Ps > -Ps

b. he/hi is replaced by he

heo/ha is replaced by she (possibly via seo)

hi/hie is replaced by they

[i-phi] [i-phi]/[i-loc]





article pronoun C

[u-phi] [i-phi] [u/i-T]


what else happens from oe me
What else happens from OE > ME?

Loss of pro-drop, which OE had:

(1) Nu scylun hergan hefaenricaes uard Now must praise heavenly-kingdom guard

`Now we must praise the lord of the heavenly kingdom.'

(Northumbrian Caedmon’s Hymn).

This is not Germanic Topic-drop since Spec CP is filled.

connected to v movement as in ohg
Connected to V-movement as in OHG?

(2) Sume hahet in cruci OHG

some hang-2P to cross

`Some of them, you will crucify.’ (Axel 2007: 293; Monsee Fragments)


Pogatscher (1901) has 176 null subjects “im nebensatze”.

oe subordinates with pro drop
OE subordinates with pro-drop

(3) þæt ic gumcystum godne funde beaga bryttan breac þonne moste

that I manly-virtue good found ring dispenser enjoyed as-long could

`that I found a noble bestower of rings and enjoyed it as long as I could.' (Beowulf 1486-7)

(4) swylcum gifeþe bið þæt þone hilderæs hal gedigeð

such given be that the battle-storm unhurt endure

`May it be that he will withstand unhurt the heat of the battle.' (Beowulf 299-300)

structural and morphological conditions
Structural and morphological conditions

- Frascarelli & Hinterhölzel (2007); Sigurðsson (2011)

- Licensing by the [i-phi] on the verb, as in Italian?

- More interesting is the topic that licenses; aboutness-shift in Italian, according to Frascarelli (2007)

aboutness topic

[il mio capo]i come diceva Carlo […] proi è un exreporter […]

[my boss]i as Carlo used to say […] proi is a former reporter […]

proi è stato in giro per il mondo […] proi mi ha preso in simpatia solo […]

proi has been all over the world […] proi likes me

challenges with this
Challenges with this:

poi c'è M.F.k che è questo che appunto sta facendo tipo praticantato per poi andare a fare l'esame da giornalista fra un anno e mezzo quindi luik c'ha quanto meno la garanzia che prok può rimanere lì finché prok non farà l'esame

`then there is M.F.k who is practicing for his exam as a journalist in one and a half years, so at least hek has a guarantee that prok will stay there till prok has made the exam.’

topic drop which kind
Topic-drop: which kind?

(5) Heah wæs þæt handlean and him hold frea high was that reward and him kind lord

gesealde wæpna geweald wið wraðra gryre,

gave weapens power against hostile terror

ofercom mid þy campe cneomaga fela

overcame with it in-fight warriors many

(Talking about Moses), `Great was the reward and God was gracious to him (=Moses) and gave him weapons against hostile terror. He overcame many warriors with it in battle.' (Exodus 19-21)

familiar topic
Familiar Topic?

(6) Talking about the warriors:

Wæs þeaw hyra þæt hie oft wæron an wig gearwe,

was custom their that they often were a war ready

wæs seo þeod tilu. Sigon þa to slæpe

was that people good sank then to sleep

`It was their custom always to be ready for war. They were good people. They went to sleep.' (Beowulf 1246-51)

yes so unlike frascarelli for italian
Yes, so unlike Frascarelli for Italian

(7) Talking about Hrothgar:

Him on mod bearn þæt healreced hatan wolde medoærn micel men gewyrcean

`Him to mind came that palace command would meadhall large men to-build

`He thought that he would order his men to build a big hall, a big meadhall.' (Beowulf 64-69)

Beowulf is described and speaks:

(8) Gegrette ða gumena gehwylcne ...

greeted then men every

Nolde ic sweord beran wæpen to wyrme

not-wanted I sword bear weapon to dragon

gif ic wiste huwið ðam aglæcean elles meahte

if I knew how against that monster otherwise might

`He greeted then the men ... I would bear no sword, weapon against the dragon, if I knew what else I could do against the monster'. (Beowulf 2518-20)

sigur sson 2011 nusu is edge linked
Sigurðsson (2011): NuSu is Edge-linked

Null Subjects:

- Pro Drop (Italian)

- Topic Drop (Germanic):

Topic moves to Spec CP and he seems to suggest V-2 is obligatory; he is not precise on which topic but Icelandic suggests low

- Discourse Drop (East Asian)

pro drop in italian is incorporated pronoun is that so in oe
Pro-drop in Italian is incorporated pronoun; is that so in OE?

Agreement (SV order; weak verbs):

Present S 1 -e

2 -(e)s(t)

3 -(e)ð

P -að

Preterite S 1 -de

2 -des(t)

3 -de

P -dun, -don, dan

inflection on strong verbs in e g mercian glosses
Inflection on strong verbs in e.g. Mercian Glosses

Þu V 5 –es, 1 –est, 1 –ast, -2 st

V Þu 2 –es, 1 –s, 2 –(e)st

V 3 –est (Berndt 1956: 98)

(1) Þu bindes (Matthew 16.9)

(2) spreces Þu (Matthew 13.10)

(3) cymest (Matthew 3.14) (Berndt 1956: 98)

no difference for third person
No difference for third person:

Rushworth’s Mercian part

SV: 16 –eþ, 1 –eth, 2 –aþ

VS: 1 –aþ

V: 10 –eþ, 3 –aþ, 1 –æþ, 1 –iþ (Berndt 103)

(1) he findeþ (Matthew 7.8)

(2) sti3aþ he (Matthew 24.17)

(3) onwreoþ (Matthew 16.17) (Berndt 104)

person split in oe null vs overt subject pronouns
Person split in OE: Null vs Overt Subject Pronouns

Rushworth’s Matthew

1S 6/191 (=97%)

1P 1/44 (=98%)

2S 12/90 (=88%)

2P 20/168 (=89%)

3S 223/246 (=54%)

3P 130/141 (=52%)

lindisfarne northumbrian
Lindisfarne (Northumbrian)

1S 9/212 (=96%) 9/656 (=99%)

1P 0/53 (=100%) 1/120 (=99%)

2S 16/103 (=87%) 22/308 (=93%)

2P 10/206 (=95%) 21/428 (=95%)

3S 445/116 (=21%) 1292/225 (=15%)

3P 263/108 (=29%)618/154 (=20%)

pro drop agreement licensing in oe
Pro-drop/agreement licensing in OE

- Not V-movement as in OHG

- There is a relation to agreement: less pro-drop in first and second person and less agreement here

- T has interpretable phi-features in OE

- Hence, pro-drop etc

- These are first lost with first and second ps

old norse finally
Old Norse (finally)

(1) Ominnis hegri heitir sa er yfir alþrom þrvmir,

forgetting heron called he who over beer quiet-lies;

hann stelr geði gvma

he steals mind man

`Forgetting is the name men give to the heron/bird; he steals the minds of man over beer.’ (Havamal 13;

(2)Osnotr maþr hyggr ser alla vera viðhloiendr vini hitki hann fiþr,

fool man thinks his all be laugh friend he finds

þot þeir vm hann fár lesi, ef hann meþ snotrom sitr.

although they around him evil contrive when he with smart sits

`The fool thinks that those who laugh at him are all his friends although when he sits with wiser men he hears they speak ill of him.’ (Havamal 24;

modern norwegian
Modern Norwegian

(3) .. tænkte Helge og smilte -- for der han stod med frakkekraven brettet op for kulden, hadde han følt en underlig historisk stemning stryke gjennem sig. Men saa tok han til at nynne med ... og fortsatte nedover gaten i den retning, som han visste, Corsoen skulde ligge..

`thought Helge and smiled – because there he stood with his coat-collar turned up against the cold, a special historical atmosphere had come to him. But then he started to hum along … and continued in the direction where he knew the Corso was.’ (Sigrid Undset Jenny, p. 1)

on modern norwegian
ON > Modern Norwegian
  • ON has full demonstrative paradigm but a restricted personal one
  • ON has a reflexive
  • The demonstrative paradigm also `helps’ the personal, e.g. third plural de/dem `they/them’
  • Like English, and unlike Dutch and German, it loses the ability to use demonstratives for topic-shifting references to persons.
  • Result: only personal pronouns, like English
languages with and without case and agreement
Languages with and without Case and agreement

Agreement no Agr

Case Amis, Urdu, Basque Korean, Khoekhoe

no Case Navajo, Zulu, Lakhota, Sango, Ainu Haida, Thai

Phi-features `Case'

(for head-marking) (for dependent-marking)

yes no yes no

Korean Korean Navajo

u-F i-F (English)

Old English

Phi with T no cluster

English Zulu


The pronoun system in English undergoes a major shift around 1200:

Pro-drop is lost (probably due to agreement-loss, not yet loss of V-2)

Demonstrative > Articles

> -Ps

Personal pronouns are strengthened externally

The former/latter are introduced


Old Norse: more or less similar changes to English regarding demonstratives and pronouns, unlike the other Germanic languages.

Internal change:

Semantic > Interpretable > Uninterpretable

External change:

Renewal of the semantic features

some references
Some References

Berndt, Rolf 1956. Form unde Funktion des verbums im nordlichen Spataltenglischen. Halle: Niemeyer.

Chomsky, Noam 2007. Approaching UG from below, in Uli Sauerland et al. (eds), Interfaces + Recursion = Language, 1-29. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Frascarelli, Mara 2007 Subjects, topics and the interpretation of referential pro. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 25.4, 691-734.

Frascarelli, Mara & Roland Hinterhölzl. 2007. ‘Types of Topics in German and Italian’, in Kerstin Schwabe & Susanne Winkler (eds.), On Information Structure, Meaning and Form, 87-116. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Gelderen, Elly van 2011. The Linguistic Cycle. Oxford University Press.

Sigurðsson, Halldór 2011. Conditions on Argument Drop. Linguistic Inquiry 42.2: 267-304.

Traugott, Elizabeth 1992. Syntax. In Richard Hogg (ed.), The Cambridge History of the English Language I; Old English, 168-289. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wood, Johanna 2003. Definiteness and Number: Determiner Phrase and Number Phrase in the History of English. ASU PhD.