English Language and Linguistics

Research Article

Grammatical person and the variable syntax of Old English personal pronouns1


a1 Department of Linguistics and English Language, University of Edinburgh, Dugald Stewart Building, Charles Street, Edinburgh EH8 9AD, Scotland rhona.alcorn@ling.ed.ac.uk


The variable positioning of bare personal pronouns in Old English prose remains something of a mystery. In the role of prepositional object, for example, these elements are often found in positions where other prepositional object types are rarely attested. This article reports the results of an empirical study of a correlation between the variable placement of these pronouns and their specification for grammatical person. By demonstrating that this correlation defies a number of independent explanations, it is argued that person is an important aspect of the syntax of these constituents. The identification of two further correlations, one involving narrative mode and the other involving the relative positioning of preposition and verb, further demonstrates the value of quantitative methods in historical linguistics.

(Received December 15 2008)

(Revised April 05 2009)


1 I am grateful to Peter Ackema, Ronnie Cann, Caroline Heycock, the 2008 Richard M. Hogg Prize Committee and the two anonymous English Language and Linguistics referees for their extremely helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article, and I am especially indebted to Linda van Bergen for her excellent mentorship throughout my ongoing postgraduate studies. For their financial support, I sincerely thank the AHRC for my Research Preparation Masters Scheme award (2006/123055), the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland for my current doctoral scholarship, and all contributors to the 2008 Richard M. Hogg Prize fund.