This book offers a description of the syntax of the two major recorded Old West Germanic languages, Old English and Old High German, particularly in as much as it relates to word-order. The conclusions reached may be stated briefly:
1) Old English word-order is governed by conventions which approach the status of rules and may be precisely described;
2) Old High German word-order is governed by conventions which approach the status of rules and may be precisely described;
3) The conventions of word-order in Old English and Old High German are effectively identical. It is therefore meaningful to speak of a common syntax of West Germanic, which much have existed in Proto-West Germanic and which is evidenced in the major languages in the group.
4) Evidence of the identity of syntax in those areas where it may be ascertained for both Old English and Old High German enables the hypothesis to be advanced that study of the syntax of one Old West Germanic language is an indicator of the syntax of others. In particular the syntax of the better-recorded Old English acts as a guide to the syntax of Old High German.
These results are surprising. Scholarship in Old English word-order has concentrated upon stressing the perceived freedom in that word-order. Scholarship in Old High German word-order has not been as copious or as categorical, but freedom has featured in its description. The ability to list practices which approach the status of rules for Old English and Old High German is unexpected. An assertion of the near-identity of word-order between Old English and Old High German has to imply a belief that they are much closer than has previously been assumed, and may even be properly regarded as dialects of one West Germanic language.
The argument in this book progresses from evidence on the two languages previously published in The Word-Order of Aelfric and The Word Order of Old High German.
For the study of Old English the work of Aelfric is used as source. Materials are derived from both the non-rhythmic prose of Catholic Homilies and the rhythmic prose of Supplementary Homilies). For Old High German The Tatian Gospel Translations have been used as the source text.
The perceived close similarity of the syntax of Old English and Old High German has encouraged a presentation of evidence and rules of word-order side-by-side. This is a clear demonstration of the near identity of the syntax of the two languages. In addition it allows deficiencies in the materials available for the study of one language to be supplemented from the other. This is particularly important in approaching Old High German, were the translational nature of virtually all extant texts poses an obstacle for the study of syntax.
An overview of the literature of the subject is most appropriately carried out by looking at the two areas individually. Studies comparing the syntax of both Old English and Old High German scarcely exist, while works comparing the syntax of two or more old Germanic languages are rare. Works which examine any aspects of the syntax of either Old English or Old High German are almost entirely conducted without reference to work in the other language. The two disciplines have developed with remarkably little overt knowledge of work in the other area, and little cross-fertilisation.