Current Project

Syntactic optionality in North and West Germanic: insights from the history of Icelandic and Low German

This is my Postdoctoral Research project funded by the FWO (Research foundation – Flanders) at Ghent University (2021-2024), promoted by Prof. Anne Breitbarth.


Word order optionality in the postfinite domain in North and Continental West Germanic has attracted much attention in generative syntax in the past three decades, in particular the phenomena known as ‘Object Shift’ and ‘Scrambling’. However, the precise factors conditioning this word order optionality remain unclear, and there is to date not account which can explain the full cross-Germanic variation on display.

The project will shed light on this area via novel historical data from Icelandic (North Germanic) and Low German (Continental West Germanic). Both languages are well placed to fill gaps in the literature on the topic and are accessible for this type of study via parsed corpora (Icelandic Parsed Historical Corpus; Corpus of Historical Low German).

In order to achieve this, a new annotation scheme which encodes the relevant information-structural and semantic properties will be developed as a generally applicable enhancement for historical Penn-style treebanks and will be employed for the two corpora in use.

Additionally, the project will develop a novel way to model gradience in word order flexibility within the architecture of Lexical-Functional Grammar in order to facilitate comparison between the Icelandic and Low German data and with further Germanic varieties.

Broader questions which the project plans to address

  • What insights can be gained from comparing historical North and West Germanic varieties?
  • How can we better capture uncertainty in corpus annotation and how can we harness this for theoretical insights?
  • How can microvariation in word order be modelled in terms of gradient degrees of configurationality?
  • How does information structure interact with subordination and coordination and how can this account for word order variation across complex sentences?

Project publications

  • Booth, Hannah, Anne Breitbarth & Melissa Farasyn. To appear. Linke Satzperipherie, Mittelfeld und Nullsubjekte im Mittelniederdeutschen. Zur Untersuchung syntaktischer Phänomene mit dem CHLG. To appear in Marco Coniglio, Anabel Recker & Heike Sahm (eds.), Mittelniederdeutsch an der Schnittstelle zwischen Literaturwissenschaft, Sprachwissenschaft und Digital Humanities. Götiingen: Universitätsverlag.
  • Booth, Hannah. 2022. Desiderata for the annotation of information structure in complex sentencesProceedings of the 16th Linguistic Annotation Workshop (LAW XVI), 31-43. Marseille, France: European Language Resources Association.
  • Hägele, David, Christoph Schulz, Cedric Beschle, Hannah Booth, Miriam Butt, Andrea Barth, Oliver Deussen & Daniel Weiskopf. 2022. Uncertainty visualisation: fundamentals and recent developmentsit – Information Technology: special issue on Quantitative Visual Computing 64(4-5), 121-132.

Project presentations