Case study 2: Subordination

In the case of subordination, it has been observed that different types of subordinate clauses tend to become more integrated over time (see e.g. Hopper and Traugott 2003: 175-211). Obviously, this undermines one vital part of the system laid out in section 2.3: if concessives have the tendency to become integrated, the criterion of inversion can no longer reliably function as a semantic signal of the degree of integration, and the whole network gets disturbed.[1] Yet this is precisely what has happened and still is happening in Dutch. Example

  • (26) shows that the concessive conjunction hoewel did not yet trigger inversion in the 18th century, contrary to what is the case in late 20th century Dutch, see
  • (27) . Moreover, the concessive conjunction (ook) al, which normally does not trigger inversion, see (10), can occasionally be seen to be used in an integrated construction, triggering inversion in present-day Dutch, see (28). This is still frowned upon in (prescriptive) grammars, but examples can be found even in edited texts.
  • (26) Hoewel ik haestig ben, het is aenstonds gedaen

although I irascible am it is immediately done

‘Although I am irascible, it is immediately over.’ (18th century, WNT)

(27) Hoewel ik je invitatie heel lief vind, zal ik niet

although I your invitation very sweet find shall I not

kunnen komen.

can come

‘Although I find your invitation very sweet, I shall not be able to attend.’ (20th century, WNT)

(28) Ook al waren zij duur geworden, had zij

even though were they expensive become had she

altijd veel bloemen om zich.

always many flowers around herself

‘Even though they had become expensive, she was always surrounded by a lot of flowers.’ (20th century, WNT)

How does the system of Dutch grammar react to the drift of subordinate clauses towards tighter integration? One strategy that is followed is to make the relations lexically explicit. Indeed, the Dutch language witnesses a considerable increase in the fund of conjunctions. Van der Horst (2008: 984) speaks of a proliferation (“woekering”) of subordinating conjunctions in Late Middle Dutch and Early Modern Dutch.[2]

In Middle Dutch, the precise semantic import of a subordinate clause was often left implicit, as can be appreciated from the bewildering set of meanings that the simple subordinator dat can convey:

(29) Want dat hi enich erchs verdiende, nemmermeer en

for if he any bad-GEN achieved nevermore neg

haddi ons te vriende

had=hi us to friend:DAT

‘For if he achieved anything bad, he would not have us as a friend anymore.’ (MNW, s.v. dat)

(30) Hi hadde (...) hem selven soe siec ghemaect, dat hi

he had him self so sick made because he

soe vele hadde ghewaect so much had stayed_awake

‘He had made himself so sick because he had stayed awake so long.’ (MNW, s.v. dat)

(31) Ic hebbe in minen droom van hem ghedoghet

I have in my dream of him thought

dat ics vermoeyt bem

so_that (consequence) I=this:GEN tired am

‘I thought about him in my dream, so that I am tired because of it.’

  • (MNW, s.v. dat)
  • (32) Maria brachte haren sone, dat menne

Maria brought her son so_that (goal) one=him:ACC

besniden soude circumcise would

‘Maria brought her son, so that he could be circumcised.’ (MNW, s.v. dat)

(33) Si dwoughen sine voete met warmen borne,

They washed his feet with warm source_water

dat ic wane

as_far_as I believe

‘They washed his feet with warm water, as far as I know.’ (MNW, s.v. dat)

(34) Nu es Brune die bere ghegaen, dat hi te Maupertuus

Now is B. the bear gone until he to M.

es comen is come

‘Now Bruin the bear set off, until he reached Maupertuis.’ (MNW, s.v. dat)

A more specific subordinating conjunction like opdat used to be ambiguous between expressing condition and goal, see (35) and (36), respectively. In present-day standard Dutch, opdat unequivocally introduces subordinating clauses of goal.

(35) Opdat ik maar eenigszins tijd heb, zal ik het doen

if I but somewhat time have, shall I it do

‘If I have only the slightest amount of time, I will do it.’ (18th/19th century, WNT, s.v. opdat)

(36) Hij... hield de lamp omhoog, opdat zij des te beter

he held the lamp up so_that they all the better

mochten zien. might see

‘He held the lamp up, so that they could see (even) better.’ (19th century, WNT s.v. opdat)

Still, the view that the grammaticalisation of new conjunctions to make the precise type of subordinate clause more explicit is a “compensatory” strategy for the unstoppable integration of subordinate clauses messing up the iconic system introduced in section 2.3, is incorrect. The reason is that the iconic horizontal network of subordinate clauses developed in sync with the massive grammaticalisation of conjunctions. As shown in Van der Horst (1981, 2008: 538-540, 769-771, 1040-1042), adverbial subordinate clauses of various types, including deeply attached ones, did not yet systematically trigger inversion in the main clause in Middle Dutch, and even later. Weijnen (1971: 13) gives the following example of a non-integrated temporal subordinate clause in Middle Dutch:

(37) Alsic dit horde ic was in vare

when=I this heard I was in fear

‘When I heard about this, I was frightened.’

Burridge (1993: 41) says that the systematic use of inversion in the main clause after a sentence-initial subordinate clause only gains momentum after 1650. It is hence more accurate to say that the use of the main verb position and the lexically specific conjunctions are degenerate strategies to express semantic layering. Just as in the case of experience processes, such a situation of degeneracy prevents the system from collapse when one of the degenerate strategies comes under pressure. The other available strategy does not come out of the blue, but its weight is increased. In other words: the grammaticalisa- tion of new, specialised conjunctions was not really a remedy for the integration of higher-order adverbial subordinate clauses, but maybe it has been sped up by the drift towards integration.[3]

An indication that the two processes are still causally related is the observation that adverbial clauses without a specialised conjunction are more likely to resist integration in the main clause: the unambiguous concessive conjunctions hoewel, ofschoon and ondanks (het feit) dat trigger inversion in the main clause in present-day standard Dutch,[4] but concessive clauses without a conjunction like (38) do not, suggesting that they need the syntactic clue of (lack of) inversion in the main clause to indicate their adverbial type. The same argumentation applies to concessive (ook) al. This conjunction is not as grammaticalised as hoewel and ofschoon: al retains characteristics associated with its adverbial origin. As shown in (10), al clauses do not sport the characteristic verb-final syntax of Dutch subordinate clauses and as shown in (39), al does not have to be used subclause-initially.[5] In the latter case, inversion is not possible.

Concessive meaning can also be expressed by the semi-conjunction ‘wh-word ... ook’, as in (40), again without triggering inversion in the main clause.[6]

(38) Had ik gisteren nog hele doemscenario’s in mijn hoofd,

had I yesterday still whole doom_scenarios in my head

vandaag blijkt maar weer dat mijn brein dus ikzelf

today appears once again that my brain so myself

mijn ergste vijand op dat gebied ben.

my worst enemy on that terrain am

‘Yesterday I still had full doomsday scenarios in my head, but today my brain - so myself - appears once more to be my own worst enemy.’ (Google example)

(39) Want hij mag dan al jong multimiljonair zijn, en

for he may then PTC young multimillionaire be and

ambassadeur van Mandela, en de nieuwe God van golf, Ernie

ambassador of M. and the new god of golf E.

Els is ook nog steeds een gezonde Hollandse jongen (...).

E. is also still a healthy Hollandish boy

‘For he may be a multimillionaire at a young age, and the ambassador of Mandela, and the new god of golf, Ernie Els is still a healthy boy from Holland.’ (20th century, INL38)

(40) Hoe goed ik ook kijk, ik zal nooit de bron van het

how well I also look I shall never the source of the

licht kunnen localiseren.

light can localise

‘No matter how well I look, I will never be able to localise the source of the light.’ (20th century, INL38)

So although the criterion of inversion in the main clause emerged relatively late, the horizontal network of Dutch subordination patterns is in competition with the tendency of increasing integration of adverbial clauses. It seems that Dutch currently uses the syntactic clue of inversion for the distinction between integration and non-integration in those cases where the conjunction allows for different types of subordinate clauses, like als, see (14) vs. (15) and hoewel,

see (27) vs. (41), and in those cases where the conjunction is not fully grammati- calised, as in (39)-(40).

  • (41) Non-integration, due to special semantics, c.q. “assertive emphasis”
  • (“marked focus”, “contrastive stress”) (Konig and Auwera 1988:124-125) Hoewel ik Fred niet verdragen kan, haten doe ik hem

although i Fred not stand can hate do i him

ook niet. also not

‘Although I can’t stand Fred, I don’t actually hate him.’

In sum, as the tendency for subordinate clauses to get integrated progresses, the semiotic value of main clause inversion risks to break down, as eventually all subordinate clauses may succumb to the integrated construal. This is not happening, though. Thanks to degeneracy in the grammatical system, language users have different cues to assess the semantic level of the subordinate clause.

  • [1] I want to thank William Van Belle for pointing this out to me in a discussion of Croft (2001).
  • [2] Leuschner and Van den Nest (p.c.) speak about “conjunctional drift”.
  • [3] This is by no means the only case of degeneracy in Dutch subordination. According to Vander Horst (1981: 182) there is an inverse diachronic correlation between the presence of theexpletive default subordinating conjunction dat (as in Middle Dutch hoe dat ‘how (that)’ andsoe dat ‘if (that)’) and the V-late position of the verb in subordinate clauses.
  • [4] See example (41) for an exception motivated on semantic grounds.
  • [5] Admittedly, non-initial al features in a restricted constructional context. The exact contoursof the licensing construction are not clear, but co-occurrence of dan preceding al and thepresence of the modal auxiliary mogen seem to be fairly strong restrictions. Still, mogen isnot strictly obligatory, as is clear from examples like Ze was dan al wel 18 jaren oud, maar hetbleef toch familie he ‘Even though she was 18 years old already, she was still family’ (Internetexample, found by Google search).
  • [6] Van der Horst (2008: 1970) has several 19th century examples of wh-word ... ook and alconcessive triggering inversion in the main clause, which seem to go against the grain of theintegration drift (as Van der Horst points out himself). It is not clear why these concessivesenjoyed a period of integration, and later stepped back in line.
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