Terje Lohndal – University of Copenhagen

Verb Placement in American Norwegian: The Emergence of a New System

Terje Lohndal, University of Trondheim, University of Tromsø & Artemis Alexiadou, Humboldt University Berlin (Thursday 15:30-16:00)


It is well known that varieties of Germanic do not display a strict V2 system whereby the finite verb is in the second position in main clauses. Dialects in e.g., Norway display a rich pattern of variation (Westergaard & Vangsnes 2005, Westergaard 2009), and modern urban vernaculars (often called ethnolects) often do not have V2 (see Wiese et al. to appear, Walkden 2017 for a recent overview). In this paper, we present a case study of verb placement in American Norwegian, showing that it behaves very similarly to urban vernaculars.


American Norwegian is a heritage language of Norwegian spoken in the US. Data have been collected by Haugen (1953), Hjelde (1992), and more recently though the spoken corpus CANS (Johannessen 2015). Eide and Hjelde (2015) investigate V2 in American Norwegian based on the CANS corpus. The corpus consists of 50 speakers so far, and Eide and Hjelde have examined five informants in total. (1) provides an example of V2 whereas (2) is an example of V3.Norwegian, including all dialects, has V2 in both instances.

Ja, å da likte dem itte kattlikken. (Eide & Hjelde 2015: 86)
Yes and then liked they not Catholic.def
‘Yes, and then they didn’t like the Catholics.’

nå je fløtte nerri her, kjinner alle her, veit du. (Eide & Hjelde 2015: 86)
now I move down here, know everyone here, know you
‘Now I’m moving down here, I know everyone here, you know.’

Focusing on one specific speaker, Eide and Hjelde note that there are a lot of V2 violations in topicalization structures (3-4), but no V2 violations in subject-initial clauses (Eide and Hjelde 2015: 94; ex. from pp. 91-2). It should be noted that in written and spoken Norwegian, about one third of main clause declaratives are topicalization structures (Eide and Hjelde 2015: 88).

Thus this is perceived to be a ‘Norwegian’ trait for speakers of American Norwegian.

Fyste gong vi hadde bisøk ifrå Nårge vi var på en tjørke oppi Taylor
first time we had visit in.from Norway we were at a church up.in Taylor
‘The first time we had visitors from Norway we were in a church up in Taylor.’

Og så da nekste år, fir-og-førti, je var egg eating champion før to år.
and so then next year, four-and-forty, I was egg eating champion for two years
‘And then next year, in forty-four, I was an egg eating champion for two years.’

Current study

We studied 16 speakers in the CANS corpus, excerpting all occurrences of V2 and V3 speaker-by-speaker. Our results show that V2 is quite stable, but that in cases of V3, the structural patterns are close to identical to patterns observed in urban vernaculars. Walkden (2017) provides a detailed overview of verb placement in learner varieties of various Germanic languages. He focuses among others on Kiezdeutsch and the Mainland Scandinavian urban vernaculars, cf. the examples in (5) and (6).

morgen ich geh arbeidsamt (Kiezdeutsch)
tomorrow I go job.center
‘Tomorrow I will go to the job center.’ (Wiese 2009: 787)

med limewire det tar én to dager (Norwegian urban vernacular)
with Limewire it takes one two days
‘Using Limewire it takes one or two days’ (Freywald et al. 2015: 84)

Walkden argues that the similarity across geographically isolated areas should be analyzed in terms of what he labels sequential simplification and complexification. Our results from American Norwegian suggest that the factors favoring V3 in Germanic are uniform, involving adjunct initial clauses.

Analysis and Discussion

We see that in both urban vernaculars and heritage languages, the V2 requirement is relaxed. In American Norwegian, we find a lot of V3 in structures with topicalization. In Kiezdeutsch, only adjuncts can appear as the initial constituent, unlike standard V2 grammars. Thus, a common trait appears to be that V3 structures appear more easily with adjuncts as the initial constituent. These adjuncts are typically either temporal adverbs or adverbial clauses. If we assume that there is no T-to-C movement in either urban vernaculars (Opsahl & Nistov 2014, te Velde to appear) and variable T-to-C movement in American Norwegian for non-subject initial sentences, we get a unified analysis of these varieties: Adjuncts can be first-merged in the CP, unlike arguments (cf. Walkden 2017), and since the verb does not move to C, a V3 structure appears as a result, cf. (7).

[CP adjunct [C’ C [TP subject [T’ verb [VP … ]]]]]

We will discuss implications concerning the nature of V2 and the discrepancy between subject-initial and non-subject initial clauses and their syntactic representations.


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