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Review of  Pronouns & Word Order in Old English

Reviewer: Adam Werle
Book Title: Pronouns & Word Order in Old English
Book Author: Linda van Bergen
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English, Old
Book Announcement: 14.1935

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Date: Thu, 10 Jul 2003 10:26:38 -0400
From: Adam Werle <>
Subject: Pronouns and Word Order in Old English

van Bergen, Linda (2003) Pronouns and Word Order in Old
English: With Particular Reference to the Indefinite
Pronoun 'Man', Routledge, Outstanding Dissertations in

Adam Werle, University of Massachusetts, Amherst


The goal of this book, a revised version of author's
doctoral dissertation, is to clarify the word order
differences between the Old English personal pronouns and
full nominals, and discover whether the indefinite pronoun
_man_ 'one' can be classified as one or the other, or must
be relegated to a third category. On the basis of its
ordering properties, van Bergen groups _man_ with the
pronouns, and proposes an analysis of the pronouns as
Chapter 1 reviews the work that has been done on the
word order of subjects and objects in Old English, drawing
particular attention to an ordering difference between
personal pronouns and full nominals. Pronominal subjects
tend not to invert to a postverbal position after a
topicalized (fronted) constituent, while nominal subjects
do invert in this context. Similarly, pronominal objects,
unlike nominal objects, are frequently preverbal. Van
Bergen later uses the noninversion of pronominal subjects
as an important diagnostic for the pronounhood, as opposed
to nounhood, of _man_. Chapter 1 also contains a discussion
of the corpora that were used for data searches; these were
primarily the Toronto Corpus (13), and secondarily the
Helsinki Corpus (17).
The entirety of Chapter 2 is devoted to examining
pronominal subjects' resistance to inversion after topics,
and whether _man_ is similarly resistant to inversion. Van
Bergen marshals a number of statistical comparisons of the
behavior of various elements in inversion contexts. She
finds that subjunctive and negated verbs make pronominal
subjects more likely to invert after a topic. Once the
effects of subjunctives and negatives are taken out,
pronominal subjects rarely invert. Van Bergen concludes
that _man_ tends not to invert in the same contexts as
pronominal subjects, suggesting that it is to be analyzed
as a pronoun.
Chapter 3 refutes a possible argument that _man_
exhibits ordering characteristics of nominal subjects;
specifically, that _man_ follows object pronouns when they
are inverted to postverbal position, and when they follow
the subordinator in subordinate clauses. Traditional
pronominal subjects, by contrast, precede object pronouns
in these contexts. Van Bergen demonstrates that the only
peculiarity of _man_ compared to other subject pronouns is
that it follows, rather than precedes, the object pronouns.
In support of the pronominal status of _man_, she shows
that it forms a cluster with the other pronouns that cannot
be separated from the verb in postverbal position, and that
cannot be broken up by other words. By contrast, inverted
nominal subjects can be separated from the verb by a number
of adverbial constituents (96), and from preceding object
pronouns by various light adverbs (101).
Chapter 4 presents van Bergen's clitic analysis, the
meat of which is found in Section 4.3. The chief arguments
that the personal pronouns are clitics are that they are
strictly verb-adjacent in inversion, they do not alliterate
in verse (indicating that they are, at least sometimes,
unstressed, 163-166), they are strictly ordered within
their cluster in the order SUBJECT > OBJECT > _man_, and
this cluster cannot be interrupted by other elements, even
light adverbs. Nevertheless, van Bergen acknowledges that
the evidence for clitichood is not unequivocal (155). The
final section of the chapter argues against a possible
analysis of some or all Old English pronouns as "weak
pronouns" rather than clitics (see Critical Evaluation).
Chapter 5 considers various proposed clause structures
for Old English, comparing them using the Government and
Binding framework. The significant points of variation
between the proposals are whether topics move to the
Specifier of IP or CP, whether the finite verb moves to the
head of IP or CP when it is in Verb-Second position, and
whether such verb movement is obligatory or optional. Van
Bergen adopts most of the proposal of Kroch & Taylor
(1997), concluding that topics move to the Specifier of CP,
pronominal clitics are adjoined to IP, and the verb moves
to the head of IP or of CP, depending on context (197). In
a final section, she concludes that topicalization and verb
movement to the head of CP are in principle independent,
though they usually do not cooccur (206).
Chapter 6 briefly summarizes the book's main
conclusions and offers some suggestions for future
research. Van Bergen observes that the ordering of object
pronouns and other possibly pronominal elements remains to
be studied exhaustively, and proposes to pursue in future
work a diachronic study of English pronoun orders.


This book is clearly intended for scholars of Old
English and the Germanic languages. In addition, van Bergen
sets out explicitly (21-23) to make the book accessible to
both philologists and theoreticians by separating the data
sections of the book (Chapters 2 and 3) from the
theoretical discussion (Chapters 4 and 5). This strategy
enables a clear examination of the data on pronoun orders
before a theoretical analysis is attempted.
However, readers without some knowledge of Old English
may have difficulty following the examples, as certain
peculiarities of Old English spelling and morphology are
not explained. These include the free variation between
orthographic thorn (þ) and edh (ð) (representing
interdental fricatives), and between the vowels <a> and
<o>. The variation between the forms _man_ and _mon_ is not
mentioned until page 167, though this is key to
understanding examples containing _man_. Van Bergen also
does not gloss verbal mood, assuming some ability on the
part of the reader in distinguishing indicative verbs from
subjunctive verbs, which is needed in order to understand
many of the data on inversion, especially in Section 2.4.
For a linguist not familiar with the literature on Old
English syntax, the presentation is at times a bit hard to
follow. For example, it is often difficult to keep track of
whether we are currently concerned with the order of all
pronouns or just of _man_, or with all clauses or just
clauses with topicalization. This is due mainly to the
tendency for a single point to run to several pages of
examples and discussion, without enough reminders to help
the reader keep up. This problem might be alleviated by
more frequently summarizing the conclusions so far, and by
more generous use of commas and paragraph breaks. It would
also have been very helpful to provide more syntactic
diagrams to illustrate the discussion of Old English clause
structure in Chapter 5 -- e.g. during the discussion of the
interaction of cliticization with topicalization on page
On the other hand, the book is thoroughly and
carefully edited. I found only a single typographical error
(page 167, paragraph 3 "but if it the change") and one
cited reference not listed in the bibliography ("Tomic
(1996)", mentioned on page 150).
In keeping with the book's grounding in philological
tradition, there are several untranslated quotations from
Fourquet, a French scholar of Old English (3fn1, 9, 18,
121, 181-182). Admittedly, the import of the French is
always plain from van Bergen's remarks.
Aside from these complications, however, linguists and
students of Old English will find a wealth of useful and
illustrative examples, scrupulously checked and referenced.
Indeed, by far this thesis's strongest point is its basis
in a large data corpus, and the author's thorough treatment
of the data. Copious examples are provided, yet all
examples in the text were checked in printed editions (16).
In addition, van Bergen corrects corpus examples when it
appears warranted (15-16), and in several cases of Old
English translations from Latin, checks the original Latin
for influence on the word order. Van Bergen's willingness
to conduct repeated corpus searches in order to settle
small questions of description sheds light on some
important theoretical points, as when she digs up several
rare examples to demonstrate the possibility of
topicalization in subordinate clauses (202-203).
The book's greatest contribution to linguistic theory
is in its analysis of Old English clause structure. Though
van Bergen adopts a rather conservative version of the
Government and Binding framework, she acknowledges that
revision of syntactic theory is not a goal of this work
(22). Rather, the theoretical contribution of Chapter 5 is
to test various analyses of Old English clause structure
from the past 15 years against a mass of hard data.
Unfortunately, this book sheds little light on the
prosodic status of Old English clitic pronouns (163-170),
beyond observing that they do not alliterate in verse, and
that _man_ was reduced over time to _me_ by the Middle
English period. The pronouns' strict verb-adjacency in
postverbal position suggests that here, at least, they are
enclitic on the verb. However, whether they lean on a
preceding or following prosodic host when in preverbal
position, and in what contexts they can be stressed, must
be determined by indirect means. Nevertheless, van Bergen
gleans as much as possible from the available evidence,
rightly acknowledging that the term "clitic" is tentatively
applied to the Old English personal pronouns.
The occasional references to the literature on clitics
omit some recent work, possibly because the original
writing of the book predates this work. For example, the
discussion of apparently arbitrary orderings of clitics
within clitic clusters on pages 149-154 does not mention
the principled account of Spanish clitic cluster orders in
Grimshaw (2001), nor the account of the order of Serbo-
Croatian _je_ in Boskovic (2001:125-131).
The straw man analysis of the personal pronouns as
weak pronouns that is refuted in Chapter 4 is set up rather
half-heartedly, and van Bergen does not try overly hard to
make it workable. This is due in large part to the fact
that none of the scholars cited -- primarily Cardinaletti &
Starke (1996, 1999) and Laenzlinger & Shlonsky (1997) --
has articulated a weak pronoun analysis specifically for
Old English, and to the fact that they have significantly
different conceptions of what a weak pronoun is. Here
again, increased use of diagrams might have made the
reasoning easier to follow.
Although scholars of the history of English will be
very interested in this book, it is not about the
diachronic development of English pronouns. It is a
synchronic study covering the heyday of Old English
literature, i.e. mainly the tenth and eleventh centuries.
However, several references are made throughout the text to
the possible chronology of changes in the word order of
pronouns (117-118, 147, 154fn33, 157fn35, 167). Van Bergen
also states her welcome intention to pursue a diachronic
study in future work.


Boskovic, Zeljko (2001) On the Nature of the Syntax-
Phonology Interface: Cliticization and Related Phenomena.
Elsevier, North Holland Linguistic Series: Linguistic

Cardinaletti, Anna & Michael Starke (1996) Deficient
pronouns: a view from Germanic. A study in the unified
description of Germanic and Romance. Höskuldur Thráinsson,
Samuel David Epstein & Steve Peter, eds. Studies in
comparative Germanic syntax, vol II. Kluwer Academic
Publishers, Studies in Natural Language and Linguistic
Theory 38. 21-65.

Cardinaletti & Starke (1999) The typology of structural
deficiency: a case study of three classes of pronouns. Henk
van Riemsdijk, ed. Clitics in the languages of Europe.
Mouton de Gruyter, Empirical Approaches to Language
Typology / Eurotyp 20-5. 145-233

Grimshaw, Jane (2001) Optimal Clitic Positions and the
Lexicon in Romance Clitic Systems. Géraldine Legendre, Jane
Grimshaw & Sten Vikner, eds. Optimality-Theoretic Syntax.
The MIT Press. 205-240.

Kroch, Anthony & Ann Taylor (1997) The syntax of verb
movement in Middle English: dialect variation and language
contact. Ans van Kemenade & Nigel Vincent, eds. Parameters
of morphosyntactic change. Cambridge University Press. 297-

Laenzlinger, Christopher & Ur Shlonsky (1997) Weak pronouns
as LF clitics: clustering and adjacency effects in the
pronominal systems of German and Hebrew. Studia Linguistica
51. 154-185.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Adam Werle is a PhD candidate at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. His interests include clitics and the syntax-phonology interface, language change and typology, and the Wakashan languages. He periodically conducts fieldwork on Ditidaht, a First Nations language of British Columbia.

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