LINGUIST List 13.2117

Fri Aug 16 2002

Review: Syntax/Typology: Abraham & Zwart (2002)

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  1. Lee Fullerton, Abraham and Zwart, Issues in Formal German(ic) typology

Message 1: Abraham and Zwart, Issues in Formal German(ic) typology

Date: Mon, 12 Aug 2002 23:18:30 +0000
From: Lee Fullerton <>
Subject: Abraham and Zwart, Issues in Formal German(ic) typology

Abraham, Werner, and C. Jan-Wouter Zwart, eds. (2002)
Issues in Formal German(ic) Typology. John Benjamins Publishing Company, xviii+336pp,
hardback ISBN 1588111024, USD 100.00, ISBN 9027227667, EUR 110.00,
Linguistik Aktuell / Linguistics Today 45.

Book Announcement on Linguist: 

Lee Fullerton, Visiting Research Scientist, University of Arizona

This book is a collection of twelve papers with introduction and
subject index. It presupposes familiarity with recent developments in
generative grammar, including especially the Minimalist Program.

Werner Abraham, "Introduction", ties the following articles together
on the basis of four distinctive aspects of Modern German: it arranges
constituents according to thema and rhema; it passivizes without
regard to transitivity or actionsart, making use of the expletive to
preserve verb second; its definite and indefinite articles reflect
discourse function; non-canceling multiple negation in certain
dialects and aspects of ellipsis highlight the interface between
formal predicate logic and language parsing. The remainder of the
introduction is devoted to summarizing each article.

Werner Abraham and Laszlo Molnarfi, "German clause structure under
discourse functional weight: Focus and antifocus", show that functions
such as thema and rhema, which reflect the discourse context of the
sentence, are inextricable from the grammar. This leads them to
reject derivational functional categories of tense marking and
agreement (AGR). An unmarked derivation begins with antifocus
licensing of thematic (known or presupposed) elements such as personal
pronouns and definite determiner-phrase (DP) objects within the verb
phrase (VP), and continues by moving ("scrambling") these leftwards
(upwards in the tree) out of VP. Sentence accent goes on the focus, a
rhematic element such as an indefinite DP object which remains behind
inside the VP. The movement and accent placement rules can be
violated, but when so, the word order is marked and the accent is
heard as contrastive. They conclude that SVO and SOV are
typologically distinct and one should not try to derive the latter
from the former. If one were to rewrite the latter as SXV, X would
represent a large middle field to receive the thematic elements,
something which SVO lacks.

Cedric Boeckx, "On the co-occurrence of expletives and definite
subjects in Germanic", accounts for differences in the Definiteness
Effect (DE)--an expletive requires an indefinite subject--between
German (little DE), Icelandic (slightly greater DE), and Dutch and
Swedish (greatest DE) in two ways. The first has multiple functional
projections and a doubly filled comp filter. The second, the author's
preferred solution, makes use of agreement patterns and the
availability of multiple subjects/nominative objects.

Jocelyn Cohan, "Reconsidering identificational focus", confirms prior
research to the effect that identificational focus relates to a set of
contextually determined elements and can have scope over clause-mate
operators, but she breaks new ground in other respects. Using data
drawn from recordings of spontaneous speech, she shows that the
exhaustiveness thought to hold for identificational focus is an
implicature and can be violated when the discourse sets up alternative
foci of the same semantic type. Further, the subtype known as
contrastive focus turns out to be not a feature of the sentence, but
rather of the sentence's context.

Christine Czinglar, "Decomposing existence", does semantic derivations
for three Germanic existential constructions which use a semantically
empty pronoun (not an expletive, in her view). In Mainland
Scandinavian the verb is a historically mediopassive form of 'find';
in German it is 'give'; in the Alemannic dialect of German there is
also a type with 'have'. This last derives from a structure with
possessive 'have' in which the external argument (subject as
possessor/owner) is "absorbed" by the pronoun and then recreated as a
locative phrase. In contrast to this "locative" existential, the
"pure" existentials with 'give' and 'find' derive by absorption of an
agent/cause subject, which is not recreated. These two constructions
contain an abstract generic quantifier which bars them from
application to transitory states of existence or temporary
characteristics of the existing entity. Thus while the 'give' type
can co-occur with a locative phrase, this must be a habitat or
habitual location. The author ends her paper with brief discussion of
German 'give' examples which appear to violate this restriction.

Britta Jensen, "Polarity items in English and Danish", focuses on four
such items in Danish which, when licensed by sentence negation, occur
most naturally before the negation word. Given that the licenser must
c-command the licensee, these items ought to follow the negation word.
The author posits a strong plus-polarity feature for only these four
items, with which--motivated by GREED--they raise into the negation
phrase (NegP) for feature checking. Two of these items can also occur
sentence finally after a relative clause. Unless the relative is also
negative, the two are always interpreted as part of the matrix clause.
Jensen's account posits a sigma phrase which subsumes NegP: when
sentence final, the two polarity items are right adjoined to SigmaP
for feature checking.

Wolfgang Klein, "The argument-time structure of recipient
constructions in German", expresses dissatisfaction with notions such
as subject, direct object, tense, aspect, actionsart, passive and
tries to make some of these explicit using time intervals. The
lexical content of a verb determines how many arguments it has and the
time structure of each. Argument-time structures help determine case
and the nature of the 'event' (e.g. accomplishment, achievement,
activity, state). One reading of _H. bekam das Paket geoeffnet_ is
'H. received the package opened': the finite verb has a past time
overlapping the two times before and after (the event); the subject H
is not a possessor at the before time but is a possessor at the after
time; the package has the same two times with respect to receiving,
not possessed and possessed, but only one time with respect to
opening: it is open beforehand and afterwards. In another reading, 'H
got the package open', the argument-time struct! ures are different.

Juergen Lenerz, "Scrambling and reference in German", seeks a theory
of referential dependency to account for indefinite full noun phrase
(NP) accusative objects in early positions, e.g. before sentence
adverbials like _natuerlich_ 'naturally', or temporal adverbs like
_immer_ 'always', or definite or indefinite full NP dative objects.
He finds that the indefinite NP in its underlying position within the
verb phrase (VP) is existential and referentially unambiguous when
c-commanded by another NP. The same is true when the NP in question is
topicalized, i.e. stands as first constituent before the finite verb.
Otherwise the reference is ambiguous.

Enrique Mallen, "Attributive adjectives in Germanic and Romance",
accounts for postnominal vs prenominal adjective position by assuming
two base-generated structures having one NP embedded within another
NP. In the one the adjective phrase (AP) is left of the noun of the
higher NP, while in the other the AP is left of the noun of the lower
NP, this lower NP being the rightmost branch of the NP above. The
author posits raising of either structure into the specifier position
of a function projection (FP) followed by checking of features called
degree and temporal. Spanish data are treated in great detail, German
data only briefly.

Laszlo Molnarfi, "Die Negationsklammer im Afrikaans: Mehfachnegation
aus formaler und funktionaler Sicht" (Negation bracketing in
Afrikaans: multiple negation from a formal and a functional
perspective), accounts for two patterns of negation: written Afrikaans
has two markers, one before the VP and one after the VP; spoken
Afrikaans has these as well as a marker for every phrase in between.
Plain negation resides in the head (not the specifier) of the NegP and
spreads rightwards through its scope. Operators outside the (lowest)
VP like _nooit_ 'never', _nerens_ 'nowhere' get raised into spec of
NegP. The written language suppresses the spellout of negation
between the first occurrence and the last. Both patterns mark the
scope of negation for the parser; the spoken pattern redundantly marks
rhematic elements.

Athina Sioupi, "On the syntax and semantics of verb-complement
constructions that involve 'creation': A comparative study in Greek
and German", considers a Greek construction in which a singular, count
noun without determiner occurs as complement of a verb of creation:
_htizo spiti_ '(I) build-1SG house' Rather than comparing the
superficially similar German or English where an indefinite-article
determiner must be present, one comes closer to the meaning with the
indefinite plural construction, which also lacks a determiner:
_Haeuser bauen, build houses_. The author argues that Greek belongs
to the class of languages in which NP is [- argument, + predicate];
and that the singular noun is a predicate which has become an argument
by taking on a zero determiner. This turns the accusative object into
a kind and the construction into a process.

Wolfgang Sternefeld, "Wh-expletives and partial wh-movement: Two
non-existing concepts?", examines two semantic accounts for the was-wh
construction in German: _Was glaubst du, wen wir einladen sollen_
'What do you think whom we ought to invite?' (Who do you think we
ought to invite?). Only a few matrix verbs participate in this
construction and they do not otherwise allow embedded questions. The
first account, called direct dependency approach (DDA), proposes that
_was_ is a meaningless expletive and a scope marker. The other
account, called indirect dependency approach (IDA), proposes that
_was_ is a logical operator/quantifier like _which_ in _which men_.
While the latter selects for men, the former selects for propositions.
After detailed semantic argumentation the author settles on a modified
version of the IDA and buttresses his conclusion with data from

John te Velde, "Phases in the derivation of elliptical coordinate
constructions in Germanic", proposes an alternative to the
across-the-board treatment of conjoined clauses in which the second
clause has either a subject gap or an object gap. His motivation are
German coordinations in which the gap has a referent different from
that of the antecedent in the first clause. The author's approach
invokes Chomsky's notion of phases as syntactic objects and their use
as probes for agreement. In this case the phase is the coordinating

Like any anthology this collection is a mixed bag and every reader
will consider important a different subset of articles in it. Even
the four German-based themes identified by editor Abraham in his
introduction reveal a particular interest in matters of discourse, an
interest foregrounded in only three of the articles, namely those by
him and Laszlo Molnarfi and that of Jocelyn Cohan. The articles on
Afrikaans and Danish refer to German only occasionally. Two articles
are not really about Germanic at all. Nonetheless, German is the
language under scrutiny in most of the papers. As for the word
"typology" in the title, it is meant to indicate a uniformly
generative approach, rather than the search for universals. However,
Wolfgang Klein's piece is not generative in any sense. Two
disappointments are superficial: the book could have used better
proofreading and an editor for English usage. In sum, urge your
institution's library to buy this book; given its USD 100 price,
you may not want it for your own library. 


Lee Fullerton used to do historical Germanic phonology and morphology,
but is now a student of Germanic and theoretical syntax.
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