New prospects for the study of English dialect syntax:
Impetus from syntactic theory and language typology

Bernd Kortmann (Universität Freiburg)


At the turn of the 21st century there are new prospects for the study of dialect syntax. These are primarily due to developments outside dialectology, more exactly in linguistic theorizing. What is responsible for the currently observable rise of dialect syntactic research in several European countries is, in the first place, a broadening of the perspective in recent generative theory and language typology. No longer is it cross-linguistic variation only that matters. Variation within individual languages, too, is increasingly attributed important theoretical significance. One of the consequences of this is that a strong need is felt to improve the empirical basis for reliable descriptive generalizations and for drawing conclusions for linguistic theory. In other words, due to the rising interest in variation across dialects within generative linguistics and language typology, we are witnessing a period in which a much improved data situation will allow us to make substantial advances in exploring dialect grammar and integrating the findings into a larger theoretical frame.

The two major aims of this paper are the following. First of all, the theory-internal developments will be sketched which are responsible for this relatively recent interest in dialect grammar within the generative framework, on the one hand, and the framework of language (more exactly: functional or Greenbergian) typology, on the other hand (Part 2.2). In a second step, the significance of various phenomena of English dialect syntax will be demonstrated when looked at from a generative and functional-typological perspective (Part 4). Before looking at the new prospects, though, the role of dialect syntax in past and, especially, present Anglo-American dialectology will briefly be evaluated.

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