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In the introduction to their Early Middle English Verse and Prose, Bennett and Smithers make the point that: "To distinguish and characterize the local varieties of English (spoken or written) is not the be-all and end-all of ME studies. It is more important to ascertain the major structural characteristicsof the main varieties of ME, and to understand how and why these characteristics came into being" (emphasis added, 1968, xxiii) .

Since even by the ninth century Old English already alternated between SOV and SVO word order patterns (Bright 93), their point raises at least a couple of questions: (i) what counts as a major structural characteristic and (ii) how are these characteristics to be identified and differentiated from the earlier stages of the language? In this brief essay, I wish to address both of these questions in a tentative and exploratory way. In particular, I am interested in pursuing the slightly narrower question of how English, in moving from a primarily synthetic to a primarily analytic language, tolerated the l oss of surface casemarking/morophological case.

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