Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 September 2012
This chapter presents an outline history of English syntax. The main changes will be discussed and – where possible – something will be said about the factors that played a role in the changes, and about the effects of individual changes elsewhere. In its earliest stages English was a heavily inflected language with a relatively free word order and a lexical base of mainly Germanic words, rather like modern German today. A host of changes over the centuries has made it into what it is today: a language with a morphology and syntax radically different from that of German. The main causes of these changes, briefly touched upon in Chapter 1, are the rapid loss of inflections brought about both by internal, phonological weakening and by intense contact with other languages after the Viking and Norman invasions and perhaps from the continuing presence of a Celtic substratum. This chapter will document the ways in which these factors have led to a radical transformation of English syntax.
In doing so, we will be able to draw on the considerable volume of earlier work on English syntax. However, rather than going for breadth of coverage, we will try for representativeness of material in terms of importance and interest. This chapter contains full discussion of the major developments and a selection of further changes that we think are illuminating and/or intriguing, but there are inevitably many other changes that we could not include: our apologies for omitting these changes and to the scholars who have identified and written about them.