Old Engli.sh

The Portal to the Language of the Anglo-Saxons




My research

Welcome to my research page on Old-Engli.sh!

My Name is Richard Zimmermann. I'm a PhD candidate in English linguistics at the University of Geneva, Switzerland.


I got my undergraduate degree from the University of Heidelberg, Germany in English, Philosophy and Psychology. After that I did a Master's degree at the University of York, England in General Linguistics. And now I was lucky enough to be accepted for the PhD programme at the University of Geneva, Switzerland. I've been pursuing my PhD work since February 2011. I spent one year on a SNF grant at UPenn in Philadelphia to learn more about corpus construction. I am now back in Switzerland to finish my PhD dissertation.
Richard Zimmermann Old English
My humble self...


You can download a current version of my curriculum vitae here. (last updated: 30 October 2013)

Research interests

I work on syntactic changes. My data primarily comes from Old English and Middle English. However, I'm also working on early German as well as some other languages. In addition I'm interested in Germanic historical phonology, quantitative and statistical methods for corpus linguistics, probabilistic models of syntactic change and theoretical syntax in general.
At the VariaForMea 2013 doctoral winter school, all participants were asked to prepare one slide summarizing their research plans. The slide I presented is on the right hand side. Click on the image to enlarge it.
Richard Zimmermann research interests
Summary of my research interests

The list below includes some of my academic papers and unpublished manuscripts.
In my PhD dissertation, I discuss general mechanisms of syntactic change on the basis of three case studies from the history of English.

Zimmermann, Richard (2014) 'Distributional Differences between Old English Main Clauses with and without a Conjunction.' In: Butt, M. & Holloway King, T. (eds.) Proceedings of LFG14. Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications. pp. 566-585.

Old English main clauses and main clauses introduced by a conjunction pattern differently in terms of verb placement and topicalization. An LFG model is proposed to capture these differences. It allows conjunctions to be inserted under C, thereby blocking the CP-layer as a locus for finite verbs and topics. The model is supported by a statistical examination of relevant word order patterns in the extant Old English text corpus.

Zimmermann, Richard (2014) Dating hitherto undated early English texts based on text-internal criteria. Manuscript. University of Geneva.

I use a probabilistic Bayesian classifier trained on fourteen syntactic features to ascertain the date of composition of undated Old English texts. I'm trying to get this paper published at the moment, so all comments - from spelling errors over the classification procedure to the philological interpretations - are very, very welcome. Contact me here.

Zimmermann, Richard (2013) 'Rule independence and rule conditioning: Grammar competition in Old English relative clauses.' Proceedings of ConSOLE XX Leipzig 2012. pp. 315-332.

This paper claims that Old English se þe relative clauses are the result of two independent, overlapping rules. The overlap is made possible by the fact that the rules are not conditioned on some contextual factor. The paper is based on a talk I gave at ConSOLE XX and is published in its conference proceedings.

Zimmermann, Richard (2012) 'Self as a non-postposing element in Old English.' Generative Grammar in Geneva (GG@G) 8. pp. 39-58.

Early English develops from a verb-final to a subject-verb language. But in order to measure this change accurately, diagnostic elements must be identified that cannot postpose. In this paper, I show that self is such a diagnostic element. The paper had to be shortened to twenty pages for the journal publication. An unabridged version can be downloaded here.

Zimmermann, Richard (2009) Topics and Pronouns in the Clausal Left Periphery in Old English. Unpublished MA Thesis. University of York, England.

In my MA thesis, I analyze the distribution of full, heavy phrases that co-occur with a light, pronominal element before the finite verb in Old English.

My last three conference presentations are displayed below. Click on "Show / Hide All" to see a comprehensive list of conferences that I delivered a paper at.

On the replacement of subordinating then with when in Middle English

Paper presented at the Symposium on the History of English Syntax 15 (SHES15).
Amsterdam, 6-7 May 2017
Conference presentation Download the slides.

System-Internal triggers of language change: The replacement of th- with wh-elements in Middle English

Paper presented at the 9th Days of Swiss Linguistics (9DSL).
Geneva, 29 June - 1 July 2016
Conference presentation Download the slides.

Using Adverb Placement to Identify the Changing Position of American Possessive Have

Paper presented at the Symposium on the History of English Syntax 14 (SHES14).
Edinburgh, 11-12 June 2016
Conference presentation Download the slides.

Show / Hide All

I am actively involved in the construction of syntactically parsed corpora of historical language stages.
The Parsed Corpus of Middle English Poetry (PCMEP) will be a fully parsed corpus of Middle English verse texts. It is annotated exactly as the Penn-Parsed Corpus of Middle English, second edition (PPCME2). I'm trying to parse 100,000 words before the end of my PhD, but the PCMEP is not the primary focus of my work so it may take some time.
To learn more about this corpus, its construction and possible applications, see this presentation.
Go to the PCMEP Homepage.
The Geneva Corpus of early German (GeCeG) is a project that I am currently working on. Its construction was funded in the form of a SNF Doc.Mobility scholarship. I aspent an academic year at the University of Pennsylvania to learn more about professional corpus construction and I applied what I learned to the GeCeG. The corpus will be released in late 2015 and contain about 30,000 parsed words of Old and early Middle High German (800-1200).
Go to the GeCeG Homepage.

There are several other things I'm trying to learn as part of my academic education. I'm doing some (rather amateurish) programming work in python and learn about corpus statistics.

CorpusSearch Output - to - Example and ID - Converter

This is a very simple python script, which takes an output file from the CorpusSearch program and converts it into a text file that contains only the example text and its ID. If a sentence includes more than one hit of the search query, the example and ID will be copied accordingly. The resultant file can be copied into a spreadsheet and separated into example text and ID with a customized separator character. In this way, examples and IDs can be included side by side with the dependent and independent variables of a linguistic study, which might be obtained, for example, with a CorpusSearch CODING query.
The script is very slow, so you may have to be a bit patient. Also, I cannot guarantee that the script actually works perfectly well in all situations, but it did work for some of my studies.

Download the script
Click here for more instructions

Find here a collection of free, downloadable Old English text editions and translations, including Apollonius of Tyre. Ælfric's Catholic Homilies, Biblical Translations, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and many other texts. Continue...