Rethinking 'residual' verb second
Craig Sailor
February 2020

English is generally thought to have lost the Verb Second (V2) property around the 15th century; however, some restricted V2 environments can nevertheless be found in the present-day language. These are commonly referred to as cases of "residual" V2, a term strongly implying that they are vestigial, persisting into present-day English from an earlier, fully-V2 stage. I show that this implication does not hold of all V2 environments in English: V2 is in fact still productive in some varieties of the language. Evidence for this comes from a novel inversion phenomenon found only in Britain and Ireland, strongly suggesting that it is a recent innovation---it is not "residual" in any coherent sense of the term. The phenomenon in question is emphatically negative, yet lacks any overt negative morphology; instead, it features inversion accompanied by a conspicuous taboo word – 'fuck', typically – in post-subject position. I show that this negative interpretation in 'fuck-inversion' (FI) sentences comes from a null operator in the left periphery taking widest scope. After describing and analyzing FI, I tentatively sketch a means by which such a restrictive V2 system could nevertheless be productive, appealing to learner-driven models of change in which novel structures can arise as artifacts of the acquisition procedure. I suggest that innovative V2 arises when acquirers postulate a novel clause type characterized by a left-edge operator, by analogy with existing (if limited) clause types in English (e.g. exclamatives). This finds support from other cases of innovative V2 in English, Scots, and Afrikaans. Overall, we are left with a clearer picture of the status of V2 in English, and what it takes to innovate new V2 environments crosslinguistically.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/006017
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: In "Rethinking verb second", ed. Rebecca Woods and Sam Wolfe, chapter 6, 126–149. Oxford University Press.
keywords: residual verb second, innovative v2, negative inversion, hyponegation, microvariation, learner-driven change, syntax
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