Alexander K. Lykke – University of Copenhagen

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Verbal Morphology and V2 word order in Heritage Norwegian

Alexander K. Lykke (University of Oslo)


This paper explores morphologically marked finiteness (FIN) and verb-second word order (V2), in North American Heritage Norwegian (HN), and a possible link between them. A theory put forth by Eide (2009), claims that in English the loss of the productive FIN-marking on main verbs of the weak inflection, has led to a categorical loss of morphological FIN, causing a subsequent loss of V2 in main clause declaratives. These developments separate English from other Germanic languages, e.g. Norwegian. In my work, I study morphological finiteness marking on verbs, and verb placement in main clause declaratives in the speech of speakers of HN, whose dominant language is English. In the present material, the link between FIN-morphology and V2 is not apparent, and both categories seem close to the relevant baselines.


The survey is based on experimental data from 10 participants, who each produce approx. 15 main clause declaratives with topicalization. The participants show some variability with regards to production of V2. Three participants produce no non-baseline word order. A second more tenuous grouping of five participants, produce a majority of target-like syntax, but have non-V2 in 7%–33% of their sentences. The last two participants show idiosyncratic tendencies: One, Fargo_ND_01gm, produces non-target word order in 10 out of 15 instances (67%). The other, Coon_valley_WI_12gm has an unusually high amount of rephrased sentences. Only 6 out of the target 17 are relevant for the study. Only 2 of these 6 clauses (33%), however, are non-V2.

With regards to FIN-morphology, no participant shows a clearly non-baseline system. Firstly, there are no instances of unambiguously inconsistent or non-target-like use of the morphological forms, i.e. there is no use of an unambiguous infinitive for the present, perfect participle for the preterite or vice versa. Secondly, the observed verbal paradigms are almost formally identical to what is found in the baseline Norwegian dialects. One possible exception is the previously mentioned Coon_valley_WI_12gm.


The results do not show a clear correlation between (absence of) FIN-morphology and (absence of) V2 in these experimental data. E.g., two speakers with no V2 violations, Sun-burg_MN_03gm and Sunburg_MN_12gk, show different morphological FIN-systems: Sun-burg_MN_03gm has a system with the FIN-distinction even in the least formally differentiated class (the a-class), whereas sunburg_MN_12gk has a system without the finiteness distinction in this same class. Indeed, there are Norwegian baseline dialects, notably from the Southern Gudbrandsdal area, which lack the morphological FIN-distinction in the a-class (Eide & Hjelde 2015: 78–79), where the status of V2 has never come into question. Sunburg_MN_12gk has some ancestral ties to the Gudbrandsdal area. Fargo_ND_01gm (with 67% non-V2), does not seem to have a morphological system markedly different from that of sunburg_MN_03gm, who has target-like V2. Coon_valley_WI_12gm produces a majority of V2 clauses, but has a low number of items. I have not found other linguistic factors correlating with non-V2. Eide & Hjelde (2015), studying V2 in HN, report a higher degree of V2 violations when the topic is more syntactically complex. Fargo_ND_01gm, the participant with the most non-V2, does not show any such tendency. Furthermore, there is no apparent correlation between the type of topic (e.g. adverbial/object etc.) or the type of subject (e.g. pronominal/nominal) and the non-V2 syntax.


The finiteness and/or tense morphology appears to follow the baseline for most of the participants, possibly excepting Coon_valley_WI_12gm. This is in keeping with a reported tendency for tense morphology to be stable in heritage grammars, even though morphology can be vulnerable to change (Benmamoun et al. 2013: 141–144). Furthermore, my study shows that V2 (i.e. V-to-C movement) in main clause declaratives is relatively stable despite the fact that syntax pertaining to the CP layer is reportedly susceptible to change in heritage grammars (see e.g. Benmamoun et al. 2013: 148–149). My results are in line with Håkansson (1995), who shows that V2 is at baseline level in data from five heritage speakers of Swedish.


  • Benmamoun, Elabbas, Silvina Montrul & Maria Polinsky (2013): «Heritage languages and their speakers: Op-portunities and challenges for linguistics.», In: Theoretical Linguistics 39 (3–4), DOI: 10.1515/tl-2013-0009, pp. 129–181
  • Eide, K. M. (2009): «Finiteness: The haves and the have-nots.», In: A. Alexiadou, J. Hankamer, T. McFadden,
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  • Eide, K. M. & A. Hjelde (2015): «Verb Second and Finiteness Morphology in Norwegian Heritage Language of the American Midwest.», In: R. B. Page & M. Putnam (red.): Moribund Germanic Heritage Languages in North America, Brill, Leiden / Boston, pp. 64–101
  • Håkansson, Gisela (1995): «Syntax and morphology in language attrition: A study of five bilingual expatriate Swedes.», In: International Journal of Applied Linguistics 5, pp. 153–171