This project aims to analyze newly accessible data on late Middle English (c. 1350-1500) from the point of view of variation in verb endings and syntax (word order). It focuses on the Northern Subject Rule (NSR), a pattern of variation in which present-te nse plural verb endings depend on the type of subject (personal pronoun or full noun phrase) and whether or not this subject is found immediately next to the verb. In modern dialects with this pattern, the verb has no ending when adjacent to a personal pr onoun subject (we, you or they), as in _they sing_. Elsewhere, the verb ends in -s: when the pronoun subject and the verb are not adjacent, as in _they sing and dances_ or when the subject is a noun phrase, _birds sings_. This pattern has existed in North ern dialects of British English since the Middle Ages.
It was previously believed that Northern varieties of Middle English (c. 1150-1500) always followed the NSR. However, recent research (de Haas 2011) has shown that the rule did not always apply in e arly Middle English, nor does it do so in modern dialects. The question thus arises what variation there might have been in late Middle English. The new corpus of texts digitized for the Middle English Grammar Project at Stavanger makes it possible to ans wer this question. In addition, this project aims to analyze the word order of sentences with plural present-tense verbs in order to establish how its syntactic system relates to that of other varieties and what conclusions this warrants for grammatical t heory.
This project will help shed light on grammatical properties of early Northern English which have not been investigated from this perspective before. It will contribute to the study of historical English dialectology and theoretical morphosyntax, and add crucial information on verbal morphology and syntax to the body of work at Stavanger which will result in a Middle English reference grammar.