Due to the Corona virus education methods or examination can deviate. For the latest news please check the course page in Brightspace.


nl en

Historical Syntax


Admission requirements

A course in (generative English) syntax and/or a course in (English) historical linguistics.


One of the most prominent and widely discussed topics in diachronic (i.e. historical) syntax is word order variation and change. Language change is a failure in the transmission across time of linguistic features among a group of adults, such as the introduction of a new word substituting an old one. However, such innovation is largely unattested in the case of syntactic features (Kroch 2001). The well-known change from Object-Verb to Verb-Object word order in English, for example, took centuries to complete. We will examine factors that are responsible for causing syntactic variation and change. We will pay attention to both internal factors (interacting rules and constraints of grammar) and external factors (e.g. language contact). The main focus will be on English, but we will consider some syntactic changes in other languages as well.

Course objectives

  • Students have gained insight into the causes and courses of syntactic variation and change.

  • Students are familiar with the descriptive and theoretical methods used in the field of historical syntax and
    are able to use these methods in their own written work.


The timetable will be available by June 1st on the website.

Mode of instruction

2-hour weekly seminar

Assessment method

Presentation (25%) and one final written essay (75%).



Reading list

Roberts, Ian. 2007. Diachronic Syntax. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
In addition, a selection of articles will be made available.


Students should register through uSis.
Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte
Registration Contractonderwijs