The term ‘dative alternation’ is generally used to refer to the three different variants of encoding of the objects of a ditransitive verb, which are elsewhere regarded as equivalent in present-day English: a) the prepositional object construction (PREP), which involves the use of the prepositions to or for (i.e. she gave a book to him – she gave a book for him); b) the double object construction (DOC), where the recipient precedes the theme (i.e. I gave him the book); and c) the alternative double object construction (ALTDOC), where the theme precedes the recipient (i.e. I gave it him) (Gast 2007: 31-32).
On historical grounds, both DOC and ALTDOC have been traced back to Old English, the latter being the oldest of the three patterns, especially when both objects are pronouns. PREP, in turn, appeared in English at the beginning of the Middle English period, becoming more frequent from the 14th century, perhaps under the shelter of those French verbs “construed with á before a noun complement” (Visser 1970: 621-623). Even though DOC is substantially favoured in present-day English, the three variants are nowadays dialectally biased: PREP being more frequent in the south, DOC preferred in the north while PREP and ALT become the choice in the Midlands (Gerwin 2013: 455-456; Haddican 2010: 2424-2443), where the language contact with Old Norse might have played a decisive role in the establishment of ALT in this area (Gast 2007: 52).
There is not, to my knowledge, a historical analysis of the dative alternation in Middle English to corroborate the current geographical distribution of the phenomenon in present-day English dialects. The present study, therefore, analyses the dialectal distribution of the dative alternation in the latter part of Middle English. The data of analysis come from The Helsinki Corpus of English Texts and The Middle English Grammar Corpus.