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Old English Grammar & Syntax

 

Change in Word Order Patterns during Transition from OE to ME

  
 
Parker Chronicle(734-892)
Alfred's Pastoral
Care
(c. 900)
Peterborough
Chronicle
(1122-54)
Orrmulum
(1200)
 
SV 64 82 67 84

VS

36 18 33 16
SVO 30 26 51 62
SOV 35 44 17 14
OSV 11 21 15 8
OVS 3 2 3 4

VSO

18 6 13 11
VOS 3 1 1 1
VO 18 51 91 75
OV 82 49 9 25
 
  • All the patterns can be found in texts of both periods, though with very different frequencies

  • The table shows a definite trend towards the modern system

  • Putting the object before the verb is a striking feature of the pre-900 Parker Chronicle

  • Two thirds of the patterns are like this (see the lines SOV, OSV, OVS, OV)

  • In the Orrmulum, dated around 1200, we find that no less than three quarters of the patterns are the other way round

  • A major grammatical frequency change of the kind is extremely rare in the history of a language: grammar is not an aspect of language that changes very easily (unlike vocabulary and pronunciation)

  • The shifts in the balance of grammatical constructions that happened during the eleventh and twelfth centuries were crucial for distinguishing Middle English from Old English

Copyrighted material

 

Table: David Crystal. The Stories of English. Penguin Book, 2005.

  
 
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OLD ENGLISH GRAMMAR & SYNTAX

  Old English vs. Modern English

  Word Order in Modern English

  Old English Syntax

  Examples of Old English Word Order

  Characteristics of OE Word Order

  Change in Word Order Patterns

OLD ENGLISH

  The Origins of Old English

  Main Influences on Old English

  The Lord's Prayer in Old English

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