LINGUIST List 13.2069

Mon Aug 12 2002

Review: Morphology: Maylor B. Roger (2002)

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  1. Pius ten Hacken, Morphology: Maylor B. Roger (2002) Lexical Template Morphology

Message 1: Morphology: Maylor B. Roger (2002) Lexical Template Morphology

Date: Fri, 09 Aug 2002 12:48:46 +0000
From: Pius ten Hacken <>
Subject: Morphology: Maylor B. Roger (2002) Lexical Template Morphology

Maylor, B. Roger (2002) Lexical Template Morphology: Change of State
and the Verbal Prefixes in German 
John Benjamins Publishing Company, x+273 pp., hardback ISBN
9027230617 EUR 95.00 / ISBN 1588111830 USD 86.00, Studies in Language
Companion Series 58.

Book Announcement on Linguist: 

Pius ten Hacken, Universitat Basel

As suggested by its title and subtitle, this book has a double
focus. On the theoretical side, a new system called template
morphology is presented, based on the notions of Figure and Ground as
developed by Talmy (1978). This mechanism is meant as an extension of
a syntactic framework along the lines of the Principles & Parameters
model. From the descriptive point of view, the book presents a study
of inseparable prefixes such as "be" in "beschreiben" ('describe') in
German and related languages (Dutch, Swedish, Old English). The
general argument is that lexical template morphology offers a
convincing account of these prefixes.


The book consists of an introduction, seven chapters, and a brief
postscript. It is based on the author's 1998 Ph.D. thesis (University
of Durham).

The introduction (7 pages) briefly presents the phenomenon of verbal
prefixation in German, delimiting it from separable verbs, a
construction corresponding to phrasal verbs in English, which involves
particles rather than prefixes.

Chapter 1 (30 pages) gives an overview of a number of earlier
treatments of prefixed verbs in Germanic languages, briefly explaining
to what extent traditional descriptions and earlier accounts in
generative linguistics offer insights into the phenomenon.

Chapter 2 (46 pages) analyses the German prefix "be" and introduces
the basics of lexical template morphology. The prefix "be" alternates
with a specific class of prepositions, reminiscent of applicative
morphemes in languages such as Ainu and Chichewa. In order to account
for them, a new concept of "template" is introduced. Templates are at
a separate level between syntax and the lexicon, specifying the
relationship between Figure and Ground. They represent a kind of
reverse subcategorization, in which the arguments select a
predicate. The central notion is the SCS feature (SCS for State or
Change of State). In its initial form presented here, this feature has
three independent binary parameters: +/- location, +/- change of
state, and positive or negative specification of the Ground. The
prefix "be" and the corresponding prepositions can be characterized in
terms of two parameter settings. In a template, the SCS feature is
combined with Figure and Ground arguments, and, whe! re applicable,
verb slots and other arguments. The SCS feature can be realized by a
preposition or, after adjunction to the verb, as a prefix. Adjunction
to the verb makes the Ground argument into a direct object, which
requires the Figure to be either realized with a preposition or
incorporated into the verb. Incorporation is only possible with a
phonologically empty verb, e.g. "bereifen" ('put tyres on') from
"Reifen" ('tyre'). Compared to applicative morphemes in Ainu, German
"be" is more restricted in its distribution. This restriction can be
expressed in terms of the mechanisms developed so far.

Chapter 3 (35 pages) relates the SCS feature to the
Proto-Indo-European case system. Dative, instrumental, locative,
ablative, and genitive are Figure/Ground-related cases, each
associated with a different SCS value. This correlation, developed by
the comparison of Latin, Russian, and German case systems, is used in
explaining the behaviour of the German prefix "ent" and the case
assignment behaviour of adjectives.

In chapter 4 (52 pages), the descriptive mechanism is extended so as
to include a number of other prefixes. The location parameter is
extended with a neutral value, 0L, used for non-locational prefixes as
in "entbrennen" ('break out'). Templates with 0L have a hidden Ground,
often realized as an earlier state of the Figure. A new value for the
change of state is introduced for multiple directions, contrasting
e.g. "expel" and "disperse". With these extensions, the German
prefixes "ver", "er", "zer", "ent", and "ge" are covered. A further
extension is proposed in order to cover so-called secondary prefixes,
prepositions appearing as non-separable prefixes, e.g. "hintergehen"

Chapter 5 (37 pages) deals with deadjectival verbs. The incorporation
analysis adopted for "bereifen" is extended to examples such as
"enrich". In this way these verbs are no longer counterexamples to
Williams's (1981) Right-Hand Head Rule. Incorporation is distinct from
conversion because they involve different levels of head, -1 and 0
respectively. The SCS feature can be realized not only as a
preposition or a prefix, but also as the feature comparative for

Chapter 6 (22 pages) discusses the dative alternation ("give a book to
John" vs. "give John a book") and the locative alternation ("load hay
on the cart" vs. "load the cart with hay"), comparing the treatment
arrived at in lexical template morphology to the one proposed by
Pesetsky (1995).

In chapter 7 (23 pages), the focus switches to English, in particular
to the loss of prefixes in the history of English. The change is
expressed in terms of a system of parameters based on Roberts (1993),
combined with the system of template morphology introduced in earlier

In the one-page postscript, the properties of the SCS feature and the
main achievements of lexical template morphology are summarized.


The basic idea of lexical template morphology is certainly appealing
and the book contains many interesting observations, correlations, and
suggestions. Yet, in its present form, the book is not fully
convincing. The reasons can be divided into three types. First of all
there are some places where arguments seem rather weak. Then, at
several points, the author should have taken more care in presenting
the theory. Finally, the series editor or publisher could have
improved a few points. I will give a few examples of each type.

An example of less than optimal argumentation is the discussion of
Russian oblique case complements. When it is difficult to recognize
one of the arguments as the Figure and the other one as the Ground,
this does not give rise to a critical view of these notions, but only
to the remark that "the grammar imposes the requirement that the
Figure and the Ground arguments are identified. If it is unclear which
argument is which, an arbitrary choice must be made."
(p. 105). Another example is the analysis of the meaning of the
comparative in chapter 5, where the meaning of "becoming paler" is
described as "a change of state from 'pale' to more-'pale'."
(p. 177). Obviously, when a carpet gets paler, this by no means
implies that it was already pale to start with.

There are a number of ways in which the author, without changing his
line of argumentation, could have improved the presentation of his
theory. First, a clear explanation of basic concepts such as Figure
and Ground, preferably accompanied by operational tests, could have
made the whole presentation much more convincing. In the present form,
basic concepts and feature values appeal crucially to intuitions. For
this reviewer, the author's intuitions were sometimes hard to
follow. Inconsistencies such as the association of the prefix "dis"
with three different SCS features (p. 157-8) aggravate this problem.

A second way of making the presentation more convincing would be to
take competing theories more seriously. As it stands, chapter 1 seems
no more than a ritual exercise rehearsing some prejudices against
earlier approaches. In particular with respect to the theory of
Conceptual Structure as developed by Jackendoff (1990), which is a
potential competitor when it comes to explaining prefixation, one gets
the impression that the author dismisses the approach rather
haphazardly. A related point is the lack of a systematic description
of how the templates fit in with the theory.

A third point which is especially disturbing to speakers of German and
Dutch is the quality of the examples from these languages. Numerous
judgements and statements made are debatable or plainly false. To give
just two examples, (14b) on p. 178 "Er ertöttete den Feind" ('He
killed the enemy') is ungrammatical because "ertöten" (with one "t")
can only be used with abstract notions (in addition it is highly
formal); and (13a) on p. 234 "Er trat in meinen Wagen" ('He got into
my car') requires that the car is big enough to get into it standing
and walk around in it. While these examples could probably be
exchanged for more appropriate ones without further problems, the
section on dative shift in German is crucially based on the false
assumption that "Er gab das Buch zu seinem Bruder" ('He gave the book
to his brother') is grammatical. The preposition "zu" is not possible
in such sentences in German.

Finally there are some purely editorial points. The first concerns the
text structure and the integration of sections and chapters. One
sometimes gets the impression that sections have been shifted around,
added or removed. Thus in chapter 1, section 3.1 is entirely
coextensive with section 3, and in chapter 2, section 6.1 seems to be
the introductory paragraph to 6.2 and 6.3 rather than an independent
section. In chapter 7, the reader is suddenly confronted with the
phrase "The subject of the present paper" (p. 230), which is rather
unsuitable for the final chapter of a book. Secondly, the list of
references was not produced very carefully. Thus, "Santorini (1992)"
(p. 224) is missing from the list, and Rizzi and Roberts are reversed
in alphabetical order. More serious is the error which makes the
reference for Mulder (1992) unretrievable and the fact that the
reference for van Riemsdijk (1998) is given only as a manuscript,
because these two are discussed in some detail in the text. As I do not
know the distribution of tasks between the author, the series editor,
and the publisher, I do not want to blame anyone in particular, but
the book would have been better with these points taken care of.

All in all, these deficiencies make the task of understanding and
appreciating the theory developed by the author a difficult one. The
mechanism of the SCS feature with its limited number of values gives a
rather crude classification compared to the rich descriptive
possibilities of Jackendoff's (1990) conceptual structure. It is not
always clear whether and for which data SCS gives just the right
degree of granularity, but at least for the "be" prefix in chapter 2
it seems highly promising. I would certainly be interested in reading
an elaboration in which some of the presentational problems noted
above have been ironed out. In its present form the book requires a
high degree of expertise and tolerance on the part of the reader.

Jackendoff, Ray S. (1990), "Semantic Structures", Cambridge (Mass.): MIT Press.

Mulder, René (1992), "The aspectual nature of syntactic
complementation", Ph.D. Dissertation, Universiteit Leiden / Holland
Institute of Generative Linguistics.

Pesetsky, David (1995), "Zero Syntax: Experiencers and Cascades",
Cambridge (Mass.): MIT Press.

van Riemsdijk, Henk (1998), 'Head movement and adjacency', "Natural
Language and Linguistic Theory" 16:633-678.

Roberts, Ian G. (1993), "Verbs and Diachronic Syntax: A Comparative
History of English and French", Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Talmy, Leonard (1978), 'Figure and Ground in Complex Sentences', in
Greenberg, Joseph H. (ed.), "Universals of Human Language", Stanford:
Stanford University Press, 4:625-649.

Williams, Edwin (1981), 'On the notions "Lexically related" and "Head
of a Word"', "Linguistic Inquiry" 12:245-274.


Pius ten Hacken is Privatdozent for general linguistics at the
Universität Basel. His research specializations include morphology,
computational linguistics, and the philosophy and history of

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