Northern Subject Rule

Frans Plank Frans.Plank at UNI-KONSTANZ.DE
Thu Aug 27 18:24:03 UTC 1998

Dear Bernard, Paul, Joan, and other LINGTYPists interested in worldwide,
especially Northern agreement:

Bernard's source, Juhani Klemola (Leeds), just gave a paper on the subject
of the Northern Subject Rule at 10 ICEHL at Manchester.  It left me
somewhat confused about the basic facts.

In the abstract, Klemola states the Northern Subject Rule as follows:

"essentially ... plural present tense verbs take the inflectional ending -s
unless they are adjacent to a personal pronoun subject (They peel them);
if the subject is a full noun phrase (Birds sings), or a personal pronoun
not adjacent to the verb (They peel them and boils them), -s ending is not

In the actual presentation, Klemola quoted Joseph Wright (The English
Dialect Grammar, Oxford: Henry Frowde, 1905, ยง 435) and seemed to endorse
his statement of the rule--which says something else, though:

"Present: In //certain northern// dialects all persons, singular and
plural, take s, z, or Ez when not immediately preceded or followed by their
proper pronoun;  that is, when the subject is a noun, an interrogative or
relative pronoun, or when the verb and subject are separated by a clause.
...  When the verb is immediately preceded or followed by its proper
pronoun, the first pers. sing. and the whole of the plural gen. have no
special endings in the above dialects ..."

If Wright was right, there was a contrast between -S and Zero with
adjacent, personal-pronominal subjects depending on their person-number
(which is AGREEMENT, Paul, even if subject to syntactic conditions), though
with the alternants distributed rather curiously:

                -S when Sbj is 2/3 person singular;
                Zero otherwise (i.e. when Sbj is 1 singular or 1/2/3 person

But then, having non-zero only for 3rd singular, of all persons and
numbers, as Standard English has, isn't something to be particularly proud
of, either.

The Wright Northern paradigm, thus, would be like this:

I sing and dances
you sings and dances
(s)he sings and dances
we sing and dances
you sing and dances
they sing and dances

Nouns only add a contrast in the 3rd person, since they can't be 1st or 2nd

The bards sings and dances

With singular nouns and and interrogative pronouns, nothings would change
vis-a-vis the above adjacent-pronoun forms:

The bard/Who sings and dances

And for completeness here are also the relatives (constructed by myself
according to Wright's Rule), which first reminded Eric Hamp of a Cumbrian
or Strathclyde Celtic substratum:

I that sings and dances
you that sings and dances
(s)he that sings and dances
we that sings and dances
 you that sings and dances
they that sings and dances

No person-number agreement here, owing to the generalization of -S.

If LFG can deal with The Wright Northern Subject Rule, then why not the
North Brits themselves, especially when lent a hand by the Celts (who
reportedly also taught them how to count sheep).

I'd never master it, not even on an Archi substratum.

Frans Plank

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