Subject gap coordination

A diachronic view

  • Sophia Oppermann University of Cologne
Keywords: Coordination, Parataxis, Hypotaxis, Subject Gaps, Asymmetric Coordination, Old High German, Middle High German


This paper focuses on the diachrony of Subject Gap Coordination in German, that is, coordination structures with a subject gap in one (or more) conjuncts. Subject Gap Coordination can be attested continuously from Early Old High German until the present day, but so far, it has been addressed almost exclusively in a synchronic perspective. Based on new Old High German and Middle High German data, I argue that the licensing conditions of the subject gap in coordination structures have changed considerably over time, the most fundamental change occurring during the Old High German period. Adopting the assumption that Early Old High German is an (asymmetric) null-subject language, I argue that in this time, Subject Gap Coordination-structures are simply coordinated main clauses and that the null subject is not licensed by the coordinate status of the conjuncts, but by the agreement-features of the finite verb in the C-head. From the Late Old High German period on, referential subject-pronouns become obligatory in all finite clauses, and at the same time, Subject Gap Coordination-structures without an antecedent for the subject gap in the first conjunct and with Verb-Second-order in the second conjunct disappear. This indicates that the omission of the subject pronoun in the second conjunct is now licensed by the coordinate status of the conjuncts in combination with the presence of an antecedent in the first conjunct and that the position of the subject gap has shifted from the middle field to the prefield. However, Middle High German and Early New High German Subject Gap Coordination-structures still differ from their Modern Standard German counterparts in that the subject gap and its antecedent do not yet have to share the same phi-features.