VO or OV: V to v or not to v

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This article sketches a new analysis of the diachronic development found in many West Germanic languages from a hybrid VO-OV order to a rigid OV or VO order. The discussion departs from the discussions in Struik & Van Kemenade (2020/2022) and Struik & Schoenmakers (to appear) on the diachronic development of English/Dutch, which focus on the role of object shift and information structure. My interpretation of their data will be based on an earlier analysis of the Germanic OV and VO languages in Broekhuis (2008: §2.4; 2011). The main conclusions are the following. First, the change from the historical hybrid VO-OV systems to the rigid OV and VO systems of the present-day languages is due to changing the “setting” [±V-to-v] to the more categorical ones [–V-to-v] or [+V-to-v]. Second, the role of object shift in the diachronic development is modest; it is not involved in the development of the OV-languages at all and involves only the (partial) loss of object shift in the VO-languages (contra Struik et al.). Third, the encoding of the information-structural NEW-GIVEN distinction remains constant in that the interpretation of (un)scrambled nominal objects does not change over time (contra Struik &Schoenmakers).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)343-378
Number of pages35
JournalLinguistic Variation
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • language change
  • Old English
  • Middle English
  • Middle Dutch
  • VO-OV order
  • information structure
  • object shift
  • verb movement


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