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, conducted within Lexical Functional Grammar.

Key questions which the project seeks to address are:

  • How was the clause structure of Old Icelandic organised with respect to information structure, and how does this compare to the state-of-affairs in modern Icelandic?
  • When exactly did the first instances of expletive það occur historically and at what rates did it develop across various construction types?
  • How did expletive það emerge on the model of earlier constructions with a cataphoricallly referential það?
  • Was þar (‘there’) ever available as an expletive in historical Icelandic, and if so, when did it cease to become available by the time of the modern language?
  • What was the motivating factor(s) for the language to develop expletives at all?
  • Does the rise of the expletive in different construction types constitute separate developments or reflect one single change?
  • 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.