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A diachronic study of the pre- and postverbal distribution of prepositional phrases in Latin

This study investigates the change from pre- to postverbal Prepositional Phrases (PPs) in Latin. This is part of the change from object-verb (OV) to verb-object (VO) order. To my knowledge, no previous studies have investigated the change from pre- to postverbal PPs in languages changing from OV to VO. I collected data from three texts: Caesar’s De Bello Gallico (c.50 BCE), Suetonius’s Vitae Caesarum (c.120 CE) and Itinerarium Egeriae (c.385 CE). In my sample, the proportion of postverbal PPs increases from the earlier to the later texts. There is no evidence for the change in head-directionality in the earliest text (Caesar) but by Suetonius, VP is starting to allow head-initial structure.
A significant finding of my study is that PP-extraposition does not seem to be leading the change in head-directionality. This is contrary to what we might expect based on typological studies of OV and VO languages. OV languages range from rigid OV languages, such as Japanese, where all adjuncts and arguments precede the verb (Biberauer & Sheehan 2013: 32) to OVX languages, such as Kairiru, where constituents not functioning as direct or indirect objects obligatorily surface post-verbally (Hawkins 2008: 168-9, 170). (The preverbal position of objects in OVX languages suggests that VP is head-final and thus the postverbal constituents, such as PPs, must have extraposed.) Crucially, OVX languages are more likely than rigid OV languages to show properties typical of VO languages (Hawkins 2008: 183). This could suggest that OVX languages represent an intermediate stage in the change from OV to VO. Therefore, we might expect that Latin goes through an OVX-like stage where VP is head-final but PPs (apart from those functioning as indirect objects) frequently or obligatorily extrapose. However, contrary to this prediction, Latin does not seem to go through an OVX-like stage: the rate of PP-extraposition is still low in Suetonius although the change in head-directionality has started.
Finally, the distribution of PPs in Itinerarium Egeriae, which is the latest text, may shed light on the later stage of the change. In this text, certain PPs strongly prefer preverbal position which may suggest that the pre- and postverbal position are, to an extent, semantically differentiated. This would accord with Kroch's (1994) theory that competing variants can co- exist for a longer period if they are semantically differentiated.

Biberauer, Theresa & Michelle Sheehan. 2013. Theoretical approaches to disharmonic word order. In Theresa Biberauer & Michelle Sheehan (eds.), Theoretical approaches to disharmonic word order. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hawkins, John A. 2008. An asymmetry between VO and OV languages: The ordering of obliques. In Greville G. Corbett & Michael Noonan (eds.), Case and grammatical relations: Studies in honor of Bernard Comrie. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Kroch, Anthony. 1994. Morphosyntactic variation. In Katharine Beals, Jeanette Denton, Robert Knippen, Lynette Melnar, Hisami Suzuki & Erica Zeinfeld (eds.), 30th regional meeting of the Chicago Linguistics Society, vol. 2, 180–201. Chicago Linguistics Society.