LINGUIST List 15.1229

Fri Apr 16 2004

Review: Syntax:Deh�, Jackendoff, McIntyre & Urban(2002)

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  1. Annie Zaenen, Verb-Particle Explorations

Message 1: Verb-Particle Explorations

Date: Fri, 16 Apr 2004 22:18:50 -0400 (EDT)
From: Annie Zaenen <>
Subject: Verb-Particle Explorations

Deh�, Nicole, Ray Jackendoff, Andrew McIntyre and Silke Urban, ed.
(2002) Verb-Particle Explorations. Mouton de Gruyter, Interface
Explorations 1.

Announced at

Annie Zaenen, PARC & Stanford University.

Verb-particle combinations fascinate syntacticians because they don't
fall neatly within the distinctions one wants to draw between syntax
and morphology and between idioms and compositional constructions.
Given this, they bring out the most creative tendencies in linguists
and have led to a great variety of treatments. This book contains 14
articles giving various perspectives on and discussing various aspects
of verb-particle combination in Germanic languages. One important
family of proposals en vogue during the 1990s, however, is not
represented, the small clause analysis. The material is divided in
two sections: syntactic, morphological and semantic perspectives and
statistical and psycholinguistic ones. The language data examined are
from English, Dutch, German, Swedish, Norwegian. Some contributions
concentrate on a particular language, others contain comparative

The editors define a particle as 'an accented element which is
formally (and, often, semantically) related to a preposition, which
does not assign case to a complement and which displays various
syntactic and semantic symptoms of what may informally be called a
close relationship with a verb, but without displaying the
phonological unity with it typical of affixes.'(p.3) The discussion in
the book shows that the formal relation to a preposition is not taken
to be defining for everybody.

Two articles give useful and well-written overviews of verb-particle
constructions in one language and propose a 'constructional' view on
the morphology/syntax debate: Separable complex verbs in Dutch: A case
of periphrastic word formation by Geert Booij and Ray Jackendoff's
English particle constructions, the lexicon, and the autonomy of

Booij's contribution summarizes the characteristics of Dutch particles
and defends a commonsensical, intermediate solution to the
morphology/syntax debate: V-P combinations are constructional idioms:
they are phrases but they are created in the lexicon. Booij points to
the existence of periphrastic forms in inflectional paradigms as a
phenomenon of similar nature. His approach appeals to notions of
Construction Grammar but is by and large presented in non-formal

Jackendoff's contribution distinguishes six different semantic classes
of verb-particle combinations in English. The fact that they have the
same syntax is construed as an argument for the autonomy of syntax.
Jackendoff observes that the differences in argument structure and
lexical status that, in some of the cases, could be used as arguments
for binary structures do not generalize to all the cases and that, if
one assumes syntactic uniformity, only a flat VP structure is
compatible with all the data. This conclusion goes against much of
the recent literature assuming small-clauses and Larsonian shells. In
less than thirty pages the article manages to summarize most of the
facts and arguments for several different analyses and to make a clear
point: if you don't confuse syntax and semantics and take all the
facts into account most recent proposals don't cut the mustard and
both sides of the small clause/verb+particle complex controversy can
be dismissed.

Jochen Zeller, in Particle verbs are heads and phrases, takes, as his
title indicates, the position that verb-particle combinations can be
represented in two ways, as heads and as phrases. He aims at a
unified approach for OV (Dutch and German) and VO (English and
Norwegian) languages. The main ingredient of his proposal is a double
syntactic analysis that is obtained through a restructuring of the VP
dominating a PartP plus a V0 to a V0 dominating a Part0 and a V0. [The
'0' in 'V0' and 'Part0' should be read as superscripts. --Ed.] The
conditions on this restructuring and on the various movement rules
that interact with the verb-particle combination should account for
the facts discussed, mainly the appearance of verbal morphology on the
verb, the movement of the verb only to V2 position, the non-scrambling
of the particle and its restricted topicalization, the distribution of
modifiers within the verb-particle construction. With respect to the
latter, I have the impression that the Dutch facts described here are
rather oversimplified.

Contrary to the conciliatory proposals described above, Jaap van
Marle's Dutch separable compound verbs: Words rather than phrases?
attacks the problem of the morphological versus syntactic status of
particle verbs head-on, concluding that they are words and comparing
them to compound verbs such as 'mastklimmen' (poleclimb), which he
terms DCV. The thesis of the author is that particle verbs and DCV's
form one class and that much of the defective behavior of these verbs
can be reduced to their inability to occur in verb second position.
The discussion is rather sloppy but it brings out a couple of
interesting points about verbs like 'mastklimmen'. The description
given of their morphological distribution seems more adequate than the
one assumed in Booij in this volume. But, in my opinion, these
clarifications don't lead to a convincing argument in favor of the
morphological view.

A couple of papers check the constraints on particle preposing that
have been proposed in the literature against the data from corpus
analysis. And up it rises: Particle preposing in English by Bert
Cappelle subjects the English data to this test and Stefan M�ller's
Syntax and Morphology: German particle verbs looks at the German

Cappelle uses 478 sentences from the CobuildDirect corpus to show that
the syntactic 'constraints' proposed (only literal meaning, no
auxiliaries, only intransitives and only in main clauses) are only
tendencies. As far as literal meaning goes, the requirement can be
maintained but needs a reinterpretation of what literal meaning is.
After observing that there is a tendency to equate literal meaning
with spatio-directional meaning, Cappelle shows that it is rather
difficult to maintain that all preposed particles have such a meaning.
He proposes to define the meaning of a particle as literal ''if its
meaning is constant across different verb-particle
constructions''(p. 56). This seems reasonable but the paper doesn't
discuss the way particle and verb meaning is combined in enough detail
to ascertain whether it can indeed be maintained.

The other constraints on preposing are discussed as consequences of
the pragmatics of preposing. One function, bringing the particle into
focus, has often been discussed. Cappelle claims there are two
others: giving clause final focus to the subject or to the verb.
These different functions account for different distributions: when
particle- focusing is the main goal, the subject will often be a
pronoun, whereas when subject focusing is intended it will be a heavy
NP. Different particles seem to have a preference for one of the two
possibilities. The no-auxiliary constraint is also not absolute and
is supposed to follow as a tendency from the focusing functions of the
construction. The analysis goes some ways to explaining the lack of
direct objects in particle preposing because it would lead to two
focused constituents in a row in the case of subject-focusing. When
the subject is a pronoun, and hence not focused, it can co-occur with
particle preposing. Full NPs are also shown to co-occur with preposed
particles when they are highly salient.

M�ller's contribution also relies exclusively on examples found in
real texts. Using those he shows that most constraints on the
preposing of particles in German don't hold water. The article
concludes that most of the arguments that have been given for
particles as morphological objects cannot be upheld in face of the
data. For a formal treatment of German verb-particle constructions
the article refers to M�ller's 2000 thesis on Complex Predicates.

The meaning of particles is an important topic given the claims on
particle fronting as we have seen; it is also important in the debate
about idiomaticity as opposed to compositionality of meaning. Capelle
tries to extend the class of compositional combinations by appealing
to a meaning that is constant across verb-particle combinations.
Andrew McIntyre also argues for construction-specific meanings in
Idiosyncracy in particle verbs. For instance the particle down would
have the same meaning in brush down, clean down, wash down, etc. It
indicates that ''the action is performed on a substantial part of the
entity appearing as an object''. If one accepts construction-specific
meanings, many more verb-particle combinations are 'compositional'
than under an approach such as the one proposed by Wurmbrand (2000)
where only particles that can occur in a copular construction and that
can be contrasted with another one are compositional. This means that
for instance the topicalization test which is often used in German and
Dutch to determine whether a verb-particle construction is idiomatic
or not cannot be take at face value because it seems to be subject to
conditions that are stronger than those on the notion of
compositionality defended here. Some of the data in M�ller's paper
reinforce this point.

When one accepts MacIntyre's idea of construction-specific meanings
for certain particles, restrictions on productivity need to be
accounted for. The author discusses some potential solutions to this
without coming to a crisp and general account. But in doing so he
provides interesting examples of the similarities and differences
between English and German particle verbs.

Two articles are explicitly comparative.

In Particle placement, Ad Neeleman attempts to account for the
differences in particle placement between Dutch and English. In
English the particle can show up in various positions depending on the
form of the complement (DP or PP), in Dutch the position is next to
the verb (in underlying structure) independent of the form of the
verbal complement. Neeleman claims that the difference is due to a
OV/VO parameter setting in the base. To a non-believer the
assumptions that are needed to make this work are ad-hoc but they are
mostly stated up- front (with only a couple tucked away in footnotes)
and once they are accepted the mechanics hum pleasantly along to
account for the basic contrasts in position given in the beginning of
the paper.

Fabrice Nicol in Extended VP-shells and the verb-particle construction
starts from an analysis of the English facts and extends it to
Scandinavian. His theoretical starting point is Larson's analysis of
ditransitives, here recast in the Minimalist framework as the Extended
VP-Shell Hypothesis (EVPS). Extra Wps and Xps are used to stuff verbs
and particles in and to allow them to move picking up or shedding
whatever is needed to get the facts that this paper focuses on: the
constraint on wh-extraction out the NP in the VP-NP-Part structure,
the difference in grammaticality in the different orders of
ditransitive particle combinations, and the difference in particle
modification between the V-NP-Particle and the V-particle-NP

The ratio of assumptions to observations in this paper is beyond what
I consider explanatory but aficionados of Minimalist approaches might
find it 'on the right track'. The paper is peppered with
'assumptions', 'suggestions', 'conjectures' and 'hypotheses' and reads
as a parody.

Scandinavian verb-particle combinations are also the topic of Ida
Toivonen's Swedish particles and syntactic projection. Taking an LFG
perspective, she tries to determine whether the idiosyncrasies of
particles are due to their special status as a syntactic category or
as a grammatical function. She argues that they do not form a special
syntactic category but can belong to a number of them and that they
are not in a one-to-one correspondence with a grammatical function
either (particles can have a resultative, locative or aspectual
function and resultatives and locatives can be expressed without
particles). She proposes to treat them as non-projecting words that
are head-adjoined to the verb. Whether a word is projecting or not is
a lexical property. The proposal leads to the introduction of type of
a phrase structure rule that is unique in Swedish but that is argued
to fall within a typology of clitic-like elements.

The remainder of the articles do not focus on the syntax of particles
but rather on their psycholinguistic aspects. The first one, The
influence of processing on syntactic variation: Particle placement in
English by Stefan Gries claims that the long list of factors that have
been invoked as influencing the choice between the Part-NP or NP-Part
order in English can, when indeed relevant, be subsumed under a
processing hypothesis according to which a message is formulated to
communicate it with as little processing effort as possible. I find
this a bit too general to be of much use and in my view the main value
of the paper lies in the mono- and multi-factorial analysis that the
author presents of 20 variables associated with the choice between the
two orders. Unfortunately, it is presented in a very terse form and
to my untrained eye not all the correlations seemed convincing,
especially given the small set of data. Overall the General Linear
Model used is a promising way to approach problems of variation but it
might have been overapplied here.

Dieter Hillert and Farrell Ackerman in Accessing and parsing phrasal
predicates observe that the study of particle verbs can throw light on
the psychological status of words. One can see the verb-particle
combination as one unit from a content point of view and as two units
from a formal one. They review some psycholinguistic evidence that
seems to suggest that as far as early lexical access is concerned,
verb-particles are accessed as semantic units even when they are
presented discontinuously in the sentence. They speculate on the
general form of access to the mental lexicon which might well be
modular, accessing morphology, syntax and semantics separately.

Lexical processing is also studied in German particle verbs and word
formation by Anke L�deling and Nivja de Jong. The paper argues that
the verb-particle combinations are not different from other phrasal
entities such as resultatives and that the main difference is between
opaque and transparent combinations. Their dictionary and corpus
studies show that they are mainly opaque combinations that undergo
word formation processes (mainly -ung nominalizations) but their
psycholinguistic experiment shows that opaque and transparent verb-
particle combinations behave the same way with respect to lexical
priming: in both cases the reaction times correlated with the size of
the morphological family. This points to the conclusion that even
opaque combinations have composite entries in the mental lexicon.
These results are different from those reported in the previous paper
but the tasks are also different (the material presented in the
previous article consisted of sentences; here individual words were
presented) as is the type of complexity assumed: semantic versus
morphological. As far as the main thesis proposed in this paper, the
experiment seems not to have provided conclusive evidence.

The last paper, Parsing verb particle constructions: An approach based
on event-related potentials (ERP) by Silke Urban, uses a different
method to shed light on the complexity of verb-particles and on the
relation between simple verbs and verb-particle combinations. Event-
related potentials are obtained by measuring the voltage changes on
the human skull at a given moment (e.g. 400 milliseconds) after a
triggering event has occurred. The reported experiments show that in
a construction such as 'Er l�chelte den Arbeiter an' (He smiled at the
worker) containing the verb-particle combination anl�cheln the verb is
first interpreted in the same way as an intransitive verb (l�cheln: to
smile) and later we get an effect when the particle appears that can
be interpreted as an integration or reindexing effect. This paper is
the worst edited of the whole volume with references to non-existing
examples and typos of all sorts. It should also have been read by a
native speaker of English.

As this overview of the individual contributions indicates, this
collection does not present the last word on verb-particle
constructions. The collection is interesting because of the wide
diversity of points of view: not only are different syntactic theories
represented but the articles also cover a wide range of issues, from
details such as particle preposing to general overviews, and
methods. I appreciated the general overview of the construction(s) in
English and Dutch and the papers criticizing a body of previously held
assumptions; the use of corpus data here is a welcome addition to the
methodology. I found that theoretical approaches, where the
construction is more a touch stone for syntactic theories than an
object of intrinsic interest worked the least well in a collection
such as this one: the author can describe his/her view on (part of)
the specific construction but doesn't have the space to show how it
fits in the overall grammar of a language. The result is that the
proposals tend to look ad hoc. The psycholinguistic papers give a
glimpse of the intricate correspondences between measurements,
language processing and theories about storage of lexical material in
the brain. New methods such as ERP will most likely shed light on
this but it seems to me that they are still in the process of being
calibrated precisely.

I am looking forward to more discussion about what counts as a
particle and what can modify the different kinds, specially in Dutch
because the data and the discussion here seems to indicate that it is
not clear what types of modification are allowed and what the
importance of their distribution is. The ideas about
construction-bound meaning as falling between idiomatic and
traditional compositional meaning are also worth pursuing and it is
heartening to see that corpus data are becoming a tool in syntactic
research on par with the traditional introspection.

As is usual these days, proofreading seems to have been left solely to
the responsibility of the different authors and some of them are
better than others. In Zeller's article, a couple of Dutch examples
contain misspellings: (3) should be: dat Jan zijn moeder wil opbellen,
(6) dat Jan de tapijten ti wil verkopen, (21) omdat hij mij ti
probeert op te bellen. To leave the proofreading to the authors also
leads to typos that they cannot be held responsible for, because they
don't see the end product. For instance somewhere (p.175) we find the
string ??(ws) in an example. One would assume that one of the four
editors of this book could have caught this.


M�ller, S. (2000) Complex predicates: Verbal complexes, resultative
constructions, and particle verbs in German. CSLI.

Wurmbrand, Susi (2000) The Structure(s) of particle verbs, Ms.
University of Montreal.


Annie Zaenen is Principal Scientist at PARC and Consulting Professor
at Stanford University. Her main interests are syntax and linguistic
analysis for computational NLT.
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