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Review of  Lexical Template Morphology

Reviewer: Pius Ten Hacken
Book Title: Lexical Template Morphology
Book Author: B. Roger Maylor
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Subject Language(s): German
Issue Number: 13.2069

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Date: Fri, 09 Aug 2002 17:02:46 +0200
From: Pius ten Hacken
Subject: Maylor (2002) Lexical Template Morphology: Change of State and the Verbal Prefixes in German

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

Pius ten Hacken, Universität 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, where 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" ('deceive').

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 adjectives.

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 chapters.

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.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER 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 linguistics.