What Did(n’t) Happen to English?: A Re-evaluation of Some Contact Explanations in Early English


External Possessor
Language Contact
Germanic Languages
Old English
Early Middle English

How to Cite

Allen, C. L. (2023). What Did(n’t) Happen to English?: A Re-evaluation of Some Contact Explanations in Early English. SELIM. Journal of the Spanish Society for Medieval English Language and Literature., 28(1), 19–38. https://doi.org/10.17811/selim.28.2023.19-38


McWhorter (2002) argued that contact with Norse caused simplifications in English grammar that set English apart from other Germanic languages. This paper focuses on one of the losses McWhorter attributed to the linguistic impact of the Scandinavian invasions, External Possessors. An investigation of electronic Old and Early Middle English corpora reveals that the construction was already on the decline in the Old English period, and that Norse contact cannot explain the Early Middle English data. There is no support for the view that the loss of the construction spread from the Scandinavianized areas southwards. The facts are consistent with the view that while Celtic influence did not cause the loss of the construction in Old English, Celtic speakers shifting to English may have played a role in triggering the initial decline of the construction. Study of non-standard variants of other Germanic languages is needed to increase our understanding of the history of External Possessor constructions in those languages.



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