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Abstract

In this paper I try to explain why the verb comes at the end of German subordinate clauses. I aim to show that this word order did not come from Latin, as was formerly believed, but rather is a native element of German. As a means to this end, I trace morphological and syntactic developments within German, which show that it has gradually changed from a synthetic to a largely analytic language. In its earlier stages, German had a more flexible word order. This was made possible by inflectional endings, which indicate the syntactic relationships between words. Due to features of German morphology, however, many of these endings disappeared, making syntactic relationships ambiguous. In order to compensate for this loss, German developed analytic structures, which express syntactic relationships through free morphemes and word order. This development had an impact on the structure of subordinate clauses. In earlier stages of German, subordinate clauses differed from independent clauses in that their verb was in the subjunctive. As German lost inflectional endings, however, the indicative and subjunctive verb forms often became identical. This blurred the distinction between independent and subordinate clauses. With the rise of analytic structures, however, and the increased importance of word order which came with it, the subject-object-verb word order was able to replace the former role of the subjunctive. This syntax did not come from Latin, but rather is a relic of earlier stages of German, in which synthetic structures allowed for a greater freedom in word order.

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