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Rethinking the Tobler-Mussafia Law: Data from Old Catalan

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It has been argued repeatedly that the Old Romance clitics are phrasal in character and obey a Romance version of the Wackernagel law, i.e. the Tobler-Mussafia law (cf. Tobler 1875; Mussafia 1888). This law has been interpreted as a constraint that forbids clitics to appear in initial position, due to their status as phonologically enclitic elements, and it was often taken as the explanation of why Old Romance clitics could follow the verb in matrix sentences but never in embedded sentences. Under this view the change in clitic placement from Old to Modern Romance was explained with a change in the categorial status of the clitic itself, i.e. as long as clitics were moving as phrases the ban on clitic-first orders was active and thus clitics were sometimes forced to follow the verb in matrix sentences. Old Catalan clitics contradict this view. They precede and follow the verb in matrix as well as in embedded sentences even though they need to be analyzed as heads from the beginning onwards. In this paper I argue that the change in clitic placement is neither connected to the clitics’ phrasal character nor to their obedience to the Tobler-Mussafia law, but that it is the parameter determining the relative order between verb and clitic that has changed its value in the development from Old to Modern Catalan. The data I present is taken from a corpus of more than 7000 sentences covering the last eight centuries.
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Keywords: Catalan; Romance; Wackernagel’s Law; clitics; morphological change; syntactic change

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Stuttgart

Publication date: 2003-01-01

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