written to spoken usage in English syntax

Elly Van Gelderen ellyvangelderen at ASU.EDU
Thu Jun 26 14:29:50 UTC 2008

Hi Jeroen,

The wh- relative is said to be French influence and it was first attested in letters, e.g. (2), that were copying a Latin or French phrase, as in (1):

(1)	a laide de Dieu notre Seigneur, Qui vous douit bonne vie et longue.
	with the-help of God our lord, who us gives good life and long
	`With the help of God, our Lord, who gives us a good and long life' (Bekynton, from Rydén, p. 131).
(2)	be the grace of God, who haue yow in kepyng
	`by the grace of God, who keeps you' (Paston Letters 410, Davis p. 655). 

There was of course a wh-interrogative all along, but the relative by Middle English was `that' or `the'.

Best, elly

-----Original Message-----
From: Discussion List for ALT [mailto:LINGTYP at LISTSERV.LINGUISTLIST.ORG] On Behalf Of Jeroen Wiedenhof
Sent: Thursday, June 26, 2008 2:00 AM
Subject: written to spoken usage in English syntax

Dear typologists,

Does modern English have any examples of sentence patterns which originated in WRITTEN usage before spreading to the spoken domain?

So far I have only been able to find instances - or at least, claims - outside of syntax, e.g. phonological examples (reading pronunciations and/or misfits such as [@uphEk] for OPEC; [)f at n] vs. [)ft at n] for _often_; [ji:] in Ye Olde Inn, etc.); or lexical examples, e.g. words like _e-business_ and _e-learning_.

Please note that the status of the above examples & claims is NOT my concern here. I only mention them to inquire if there are any known syntactic parallels, i.e. sentence patterns which used to be bookish before they entered into mainstream spoken English.

The phenomenon has been observed e.g. in Mandarin, where modern passive patterns (especially those in which the patient is not literally
'suffering') initially spread as written translations from English, French, German and Russian, and only later to spoken usage. - Does spoken English perhaps have similar developments from translatese, e.g. 
from medieval French literature, or from Latin legalese?

I checked various sources on the history of English to find examples, but lacking a background in English studies, I may have been looking in all the wrong places. Any suggestions about literature on the subject will be greatly appreciated!

Jeroen Wiedenhof

- - -

Sinological Institute, Leiden University P.O. Box 9515,  2300 RA Leiden,  Holland
@     jeroen at wiedenhof.nl
W     www.wiedenhof.nl
T     +31-71-527.2525
F     +31-71-527.2526

More information about the Lingtyp mailing list