Accessibility statement

Eva Zehentner
Lecturer in English Language and Linguistics



Eva Zehentner joined the department in September 2017, after receiving her PhD at the University of Vienna and getting some post-doc experience there. She is interested in historical linguistics, specifically (morpho-)syntactic change in Middle English, as well as different theoretical models of linguistic change, above all evolutionary linguistics.


  • University of Zurich (Switzerland)

Post-doc researcher (50%), SNF-funded project 'Prepositions in English argument structure' (2018 -) 

  • University of York

Lecturer in English Language and Linguistics (2017 -)

  • University of Vienna (Austria)

University assistant (post-doc; 2016-2017)

  • University of Vienna (Austria)

University assistant (prae-doc); PhD: On competition and cooperation in Middle English ditransitives (2012-2016; supervisor: Nikolaus Ritt)

  • University of Vienna (Austria)

Degree in English Studies (2006-2012) and Indo-European Studies (2006-2013)



I am interested in language variation and change in the history of English, with a particular focus on verbal syntax in early English and the impact of broader changes such as the loss of case marking and the fixation of word order.  My main interest in this regard is on instances of syntactic variation and competition, as well as on how such competition is resolved – for example, in my PhD thesis, I dealt with the emergence of the dative alternation (John gave Mary a book vs. John gave a book to Mary) in the period of Middle English, treating this development as the establishment of a cooperative relationship between two initially rivalling constructions.

Recently, I have started working on a more exhaustive project on prepositional argument structure constructions in the history of English and World Englishes, funded by the SNF at the University of Zurich (PI: Marianne Hundt). Here, we aim to explore the inventory of prepositional structures in a bottom-up way, approach their development in terms of grammatical/lexical constructionalisation, and focus on their relationship and competition with NP-patterns as well as other patterns in the network. More details on the project can be found at

Aside of this, I am part of a collaborative project on diachronic semantics and pragmatics, more precisely on subjectification processes in linguistic change – here, we investigate common semantic changes from an evolutionary pragmatics perspective, focussing on issues such as (un)cooperativeness and the role of listeners in language use and change.

The theoretical framework I am working in is Evolutionary Linguistics, combined with ideas from (diachronic) construction grammar; however, I am also highly interested in other models of language change, and explanations for linguistic change in general. As regards methodology, I am first and foremost a corpus linguist, but also have a keen interest in other methods such as evolutionary game theory or agent based modelling.

Research group(s)

Language variation and change


  • Andreas Baumann (University of Vienna)
  • Timothy Colleman (Ghent University)
  • Marianne Hundt (University of Zurich)
  • Nikolaus Ritt (University of Vienna)
  • Melanie Roethlisberger (KU Leuven)
  • Elizabeth C. Traugott (Stanford University)

External activities


  • Societas Linguistica Europaea (SLE)
  • The International Society for the Linguistics of English (ISLE)
  • International Cognitive Linguistics Association (ICLA)
  • Wiener Sprachgesellschaft (WSG)

Editorial duties

  • Assistant to the Editor, Folia Linguistica Historica (2013-2015)
  • Part of the editorial board for VIEWSVienna English Working Papers (2012-2017)

Invited talks and conferences

  • 17th International Conference of English Historical Linguistics (ICEHL); 20-25 August 2012, Zurich, Switzerland: 'Subjectification and verbs of the type to cope (with)' (Zehentner & Ritt).  
  • 43rd Poznań Linguistic Meeting (PLM); 8-10 September 2012, Poznań, Poland: poster presentation '‑and vs. -ing: Present participle and verbal noun in Middle Scots'.
  • Österreichische Linguistik-Tagung (OELT) 39; 26-28 Oktober 2012, Innsbruck, Austria: 'The gerund in Middle Scots: a corpus-based study'.
  • Österreichische Studierendenkonferenz (OESKL) 5; 16-18 November 2012, Vienna, Austria:                       'Invad-ing -and: present participle and verbal noun in Middle Scots'. 
  • 8th International Conference on Middle English (ICOME); 2-4 May 2013, Murcia, Spain: '-and vs. -ing: Present participle and verbal noun in Middle Scots'.
  • 21st International Conference on Historical Linguistics (ICHL); 5-9 August 2013, Oslo, Norway: 'On the history of the dative alternation in English'.
  • 44th Poznań Linguistic Meeting (PLM); 29 August - 1 September 2013, Poznań, Poland: 'From phrase to clause(-like): on the history of non-finites in Middle Scots'.
  • 46th annual meeting of the Societas Linguistica Europaea (SLE); 18-21 September 2013, Split, Croatia: 'Polysemous constructions: An account of ditransitives in Middle English'.
  • 35th ICAME conference; 30 April - 4 May 2014, Nottingham, UK: 'From phrase to clause: on present participle and verbal noun in Middle Scots'.
  • 18th International Conference of English Historical Linguistics (ICEHL); 14-18 July 2014, Leuven, Belgium: 'On privative verbs and the double object construction in Middle English'.
  • 3rd conference of the International Society for the Linguistics of English (ISLE); 24-27 August, 2014, Zurich, Switzerland: 'Evolutionary pragmatics, subjectification and verbs like to worry or to cope (with)'.
  • 47th annual meeting of the Societas Linguistica Europaea (SLE); 11-14 September 2014, Poznań, Poland: 'Of harming, helping, and handing: the case of Middle English ditransitives'.
  • GLIMS workshop on Variation and Change in Dative and Ditransitive Constructions; 24 February 2015, Ghent, Belgium: 'Ditransitives in Middle English: Semantic specialisation and the rise of the dative alternation'.
  • 13th International Cognitive Linguistics Conference (ICLC); 20-26 July 2015, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: 'Constructionalisation, competition, and the case of Middle English ditransitives'.
  • 22nd International Conference on Historical Linguistics (ICHL); 27-31 July 2015, Napels, Italy: 'On argument structure changes in Middle English ditransitives' (Workshop 'The diachrony of valence: changes in argument structure'). 
  • 48th annual meeting of the Societas Linguistica Europaea (SLE); 2-5 September 2015, Leiden, Netherlands: 'On the competition between inflections and prepositions in Middle English ditransitives'.
  • 45th Poznań Linguistic Meeting (PLM); 17-19 September 2015, Poznań, Poland: 'On competition and constructionalisation in Middle English ditransitives'. 
  • 11th Evolution of Language International Conference (EVOLANG); 21-24 March 2016, New Orleans, USA: ‘A game theoretic account of semantic subjectification in the cultural evolution of languages’ (Zehentner, Baumann, Ritt & Prömer).
  • 19th International Conference of English Historical Linguistics (ICEHL); 22-26 July 2016, Essen, Germany: 'On syntheticity and analyticity in the history of English ditransitives'.
  • 49th annual meeting of the Societas Linguistica Europaea (SLE); 31 August -3 September 2016, Naples, Italy: 'On constructionalisation in Middle English ditransitives'.
  • 49th annual meeting of the Societas Linguistica Europaea (SLE); 31 August -3 September 2016, Naples, Italy: 'Subjectification is driven by sceptic listeners' (Ritt & Zehentner).
  • Meeting of the Linguistic Circle Copenhagen (Lingvistkredsen); 9 May 2017, Copenhagen, Denmark:'(Un-)cooperativeness in communication and the explanation of subjectification in semantic change'.
  • 14th International Cognitive Linguistics Conference (ICLC); 10-14 July 2015, Tartu, Estonia: 'The English dative alternation as an adaptive response to changes in the constructional network'.
  • 50th annual meeting of the Societas Linguistica Europaea (SLE); 10-13 September 2017, Zurich, Switzerland: Workshop 'Ditransitives in Germanic Languages' (co-organised with Timothy Colleman, Melanie Röthlisberger).
  • PhilSoc Early Career Researcher colloquium (Theme: ‘Approaches to grammatical change’); 18 November 2017, Manchester, UK: 'Subjectification in semantic change: Evolutionary pragmatics and verbs like to cope with)'.
  • 12th Evolution of Language International Conference (EVOLANG); 16-19 April 2018, Toruń, Poland: 'The English dative alternation as an adaptation to changes in the constructional network'. 
  • International ConferenceModelling the linguistic architecture of English: Theories and methods”; 24-25 May 2018, Vigo, Spain: 'Extending the scope: Non-prototypical patterns in the history of the English dative alternation'.
  • 5th International Conference of the International Society for the Linguistics of English (ISLE); 17-20 July 2018, London, UK: 'The dative alternation in Middle English: a binary choice?'.
  • 20th International Conference on English Historical Linguistics (ICEHL); 27-31 August 2018, Edinburgh, UK: 'Prepositions in Early Modern English argument structure' (Hundt & Zehentner).

Science-to-public activities

  • “Cool! - Musik und Historie” [Cool! – Music and history]. Radio interview, Ö1 Radiokolleg (ORF), 25 - 28 August 2014.
  • “Die Evolution der Sprache: Sprachwandel im Laufe der Zeit” [The evolution of language: Language change over time]. Public dialogue, ‘Flanieren durch die Wissenschaft’, Campus Festival 2015 (part of the 650-year anniversary activities of the University of Vienna), 13 June 2015.
  • “Warum redet Oma anders als ich? Wie verändert sich Sprache?” [Why does my grandma speak differently than I do? How does language change?]. Lecture at the Kinderuni Wien 2016 [Children’s University Vienna 2016], 14 July 2016.
  • “Deutsch ist mit Indisch verwandt: Stimmt das wirklich? Über Sprachgeschichte, Sprachfamilien und das Volk der Indogermanen” [Is it really true that German is related to Indian? On language history, language families and the Indo-European people]. Lecture at the Kinderuni Wien 2017 [Children’s University Vienna 2017], 19 July 2017.
  • Young Science-Botschafterin (Cooperation between researchers and schools); Vienna, 2017.
  • Sprache als Virus [Language as a virus]. Science Slam talk, Vienna, 22 March 2018.
  • English: Forged by conquest, shaped by culture. Family Fringe activity at the York Festival of Ideas, York, 10 June 2018 (with other LLS staff and students).
  • The Tower of Babel Revisited. Public lecture at the York Festival of Ideas, York, 13 June 2018 (with Ann Taylor).

Contact details

Eva Zehentner
Department of Language and Linguistic Science
Vanbrugh College C Block
Room : V/B/118

Tel: 01904 322661