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Pronominal anaphoric strategies in the West Saxon dialect of Old English

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 July 2017

Department of Languages, Literature and Communication, Utrecht University, Trans 10, 3512 JK Utrecht, The


Building on previous studies that have discussed pronominal referencing in Old English (Traugott 1992; van Gelderen 2013; van Kemenade & Los 2017), the present study analyses the pronominal anaphoric strategies of the West Saxon dialect of Old English based on a quantitative and qualitative study of personal and demonstrative pronoun usage across a selection of late (post c. AD 900) Old English prose text types. The historical data discussed in the present study provide important additional support for modern cognitive and psycholinguistic theory. In line with the cognitive/psycholinguistic literature on the distribution of pronouns in Modern German (Bosch & Umbach 2007), the information-structural properties of referents rather than the grammatical role of the pronoun's antecedent most accurately explain the personal pronoun vs demonstrative pronoun contrast in the West Saxon dialect of Old English. The findings also highlight how issues pertaining to style, such as the author–writer relationship, text type, subject matter and the conventionalism propagated by text tradition, influence anaphoric strategies in Old English.

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