Morphosyntactic variation in Northern English
The Northern Subject Rule, its origins and early history
The Northern Subject Rule (NSR) is a pattern found in Northern British English
in which variation between verb endings is conditioned by subject type and, va -
riably, by adjacency to the subject. This study presents the first detailed overview
of all the evidence for the NSR in early Middle English, based on new corpus
data, and puts it in a diachronic and dialectological perspective. Variationist
analysis shows that subject type is a more robust conditioning factor of verb
endings than adjacency to the subject; both are more strongly represented in
a core Northern English area. These facts are brought together with historical
and theoretical evidence to arrive at a formal morphosyntactic analysis and an
account of the origin of the phenomenon.
It is shown that the differences in verb endings in the NSR represent a difference
between agreement and non-agreement, crucially depending on the differential
subject positions available for pronoun subjects and other noun phrase subjects in
Older English, which are also found in the Northern early Middle English corpus.
This positional difference was arguably an important factor in the rise of the
NSR, together with variation in endings which may have been promoted by
contact with Old Norse and Brythonic Celtic. Contact with the latter is also
a plausible origin for the type-of-subject condition, based on historical and
This study is of interest to those working on dialect syntax, historical linguistics
and contact linguistics, as well as those working on English syntax and the
interface between syntax and (verbal) morphology.