Research

PhD Project (2015-18): Expletives and Clause Structure: Syntactic Change in Icelandic

Funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council

Supervisors: Prof. Kersti Börjars; Dr. Tine Breban

My doctoral research examines the historical development of the expletive það in Icelandic, from the earliest texts to the present day. This development is set against the backdrop of Icelandic clause structure, with particular attention to verb-second, information structure and the left periphery. The study combines corpus linguistic data and quantitative techniques with theoretical analysis, conducted within Lexical Functional Grammar.

Key questions which the project addresses are:

  • At what point in the diachrony did expletive það emerge in the various contexts in which it occurs in present-day Icelandic?
  • Was expletive það always positionally restricted to the clause-initial position, as it is in present-day Icelandic?
  • Was þar (‘there’) ever available as an expletive in Icelandic, and if so, when did it cease to become available by the present day?
  • How does a cataphorically referential það in constructions with a clausal argument behave diachronically, and does it play a role in the development of expletive það?
  • How does the rise of expletives interact with more general changes in Icelandic clause structure?
  • How can insights from historical Icelandic data contribute towards our general theoretical understanding of expletive elements?

Keywords: Generative syntax; historical corpora; syntactic change; Icelandic; expletives.

I am also involved in a project investigating variation in early Germanic noun phrases, funded by the Norwegian Research Council.