PhD Project (2015-18): Expletives in Icelandic: a diachronic study

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. I combine empirical corpus linguistic data and quantitative techniques with theoretical analysis. Key questions which the project seeks to address are as follows:

  • When exactly did the first instances of expletive það occur historically and at what rates did it develop across various construction types?
  • What was the motivating factor(s) for the language to develop overt expletives at all?
  • 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; quasi-arguments.

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