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On the cartography of the clause in Old Celtic

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The surface VSO clausal configuration of the early Insular Celtic languages (preserved to the present day in the Goidelic branch, but given up in the medieval period by the Brittonic branch, though restored in modern Welsh) stands alone within the Indo-European family. Most scholarship that addresses how the V1 configuration arose employs syntactic evidence from archaic Indo-European languages, especially Hittite, Vedic Sanskrit, and Homeric Greek as the starting point from which to try to motivate changes that led to the Insular Celtic facts.

There is, however, a not inconsiderable amount of evidence from the fragmentarily attested Celtic languages of the ancient European continent, especially from Transalpine Gaul, that should be brought to bear upon the question, and it is distinctly different in important ways from Hittite, Vedic Sanskrit, and Homeric Greek. This paper will outline the evidence that this corpus of data provides and demonstrate that the continental precursor to Insular Celtic was SVO with pro-drop and possessed a higher left periphery for coding Topic and Focus above TP, as well as a lower one above vP. The result will provide a firmer basis for reconstructing the evolution of the surface configuration of the early Insular Celtic clause. Some other features of Old Celtic syntax will emerge along the way.

This talk is part of the Cambridge University Linguistic Society (LingSoc) series.

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