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Sociolinguistics from the Periphery

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Academic Paper


Title: The Conceptual Structure of German Impersonal Constructions
Author: Michael B. Smith
Email: click here TO access email
Institution: Oakland University
Linguistic Field: Morphology; Syntax
Subject Language: German
Abstract: German impersonal constructions manifest an array of morphosyntactic properties, such as so-called expletive dummy subjects, 3rd person singular verb agreement, and, in some cases, experiencer nominals bearing "quirky" case (usually dative), that have traditionally been regarded as purely accidental, idiosyncratic, or semantically vacuous. This article argues that these properties typically associated with impersonal constructions in German can be semantically motivated and explained within the theoretical framework of Cognitive Grammar (see Langacker 1987a, 1991a, 1991b). Within this framework, it is assumed that morphosyntactic markers are meaningful and polysemous: they are complex conceptual categories with distinct but related senses radiating from a prototypical sense. As a result, impersonal constructions and their component substructures are seen to be meaningful in their own right in reflecting a particular way of construing a scene, rather than as epiphenomena of autonomous syntactic processes.

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This article appears IN Journal of Germanic Linguistics Vol. 17, Issue 2.

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