LINGUIST List 13.743

Wed Mar 20 2002

Review: Syntax: Zeller, Particle Verbs & Local Domains

Editor for this issue: Terence Langendoen <>

What follows is another discussion note contributed to our Book Discussion Forum. We expect these discussions to be informal and interactive; and the author of the book discussed is cordially invited to join in.

If you are interested in leading a book discussion, look for books announced on LINGUIST as "available for discussion." (This means that the publisher has sent us a review copy.) Then contact Simin Karimi at or Terry Langendoen at

Subscribe to Blackwell's LL+ at and donate 20% of your subscription to LINGUIST! You get 30% off on Blackwells books, and free shipping and postage!


  • Peter Svenonius, Review of Zeller (2001) Particle Verbs and Local Domains

    Message 1: Review of Zeller (2001) Particle Verbs and Local Domains

    Date: Tue, 19 Mar 2002 20:02:40 +0100
    From: Peter Svenonius <>
    Subject: Review of Zeller (2001) Particle Verbs and Local Domains

    Zeller, Jochen (2001) Particle Verbs and Local Domains. John Benjamins Publishing Company, xi+323pp, hardback ISBN 1-58811-036-2 (US), 90-272-2762-4 (Eur), USD 99.00, EUR 109.00, Linguistik Aktuel/Linguistics Today 41.

    Peter Svenonius, University of Tromsoe

    INTRODUCTION Scores of scholars have been tempted into the lush jungles of the separable-prefix or verb-particle construction, never to return. But later expeditions have been better equipped and better prepared, and gradually, have hacked paths deep into the jungle, making maps (of varying quality) and reaping theoretical fruits and gems from the dark and tangled interior.

    The work reviewed here (essentially the author's 1999 University of Frankfurt dissertation) represents a well- prepared expedition with the newest equipment (though not all of the old maps). It defends a novel analysis of the construction, based chiefly on German data. This book makes an important contribution, especially with regard to the syntax of the verb-particle construction.

    Here I summarize the contents first and then discuss some of the findings. The analysis is stated over German (and Dutch), but is briefly extended to English and Mainland Scandinavian in the final chapter. Thus I use English examples here in my discussion in some cases to illustrate points which Zeller makes with German ones. When I repeat Zeller's German examples, I occasionally make use of more literal word-by- word glosses than he does.

    CONTENTS: Introduction Chapter 1: Syntax, morphology, and lexical licensing Chapter 2: The syntax of particle verbs Chapter 3: The non-functional nature of particle phrases Chapter 4: The lexical representation of particle verbs Chapter 5: Local domains and morphology Chapter 6: Particle verbs and word formation Chapter 7: Typological remarks and reanalysis

    DESCRIPTION OF THE CONTENTS For readers who might be unfamiliar with the construction which is the concern of this book, I illustrate it in (1-2), a minimal pair with the separable particle verb _umfahren_, 'run over' in (1), and the inseparable prefix verb _umfahren_ 'drive around' in (2); both are written the same and literally calque to "about-drive," but the prefix is unstressed while the particle is stress-bearing (cf. Zeller's examples on p. 57).

    (1) a. ...weil Peter den Mann umfaehrt because Peter the man about.drives '...because Peter runs the man over' b. Peter faehrt den Mann um. Peter drives the man about 'Peter runs the man over'

    (2) a. ...weil Peter den Mann umfaehrt because Peter the man about.drives '...because Peter drives around the man' b. Peter umfaehrt den Mann. Peter about.drives the man 'Peter drives around the man'

    The (b) examples show the effect of verb movement, stranding the particle in (1b) but carrying along the prefix in (2b).

    The book examines the partly syntactic, partly morphological nature of particle verbs, and argues that they are like syntactic complementation constructions in involving phrasal projections combined in the syntax, but that unlike the situation with ordinary syntactic complementation, the particle lacks functional structure. The notion of 'structural adjacency' is introduced, essentially a relation holding between a head and the head of its complement.

    An old debate is to what extent particle verbs are wordlike. For example, they productively allow nominalization, retaining the idiosyncratic peculiarities of the verbal construction ('our playing down of the differences' means what you would expect from the idiomatic 'play down,' meaning 'make to appear less significant'). Zeller gives some additional purported wordlike properties in Chapter 5, section 5.2.

    In some analyses, particle verbs are taken to be essentially words, with the special property that they can be separated by syntactic operations like verb movement. Zeller argues at length against this position in Chapter 2, marshalling a range of syntactic arguments that particles are phrasal (generally PPs, but also in some cases APs or NPs), generally building on the separability of the particle from the verb (e.g. in 'Off he went,' cf. p. 89), but also on some other features, for example the morphological independence of the verb from the particle (in terms of inflectional classes) and the possibility of modification of the particle (in examples like 'turn the oven all the way up,' cf. p. 100).

    In Chapter 3, Zeller argues that although particles are phrasal (PP, AP, or NP), they are different from most phrases in lacking a functional projection (DP for NP, AgrP for AP, and FP for PP). This is a key argument which arises several times later in the book to account for special properties of the verb-particle construction, mainly because of the notion of "structural adjacency," a relation which is defined in such a way that functional structure disrupts it. Any relation between the verb and the particle that is dependent on structural adjacency cannot be maintained if a functional projection intervenes.

    Bare Ns in particle verbs like _Karten spielen_ 'play cards' (literally 'cards play') are plausibly NPs, as opposed to DPs. As Zeller points out, they do not introduce discourse referents ('We played cards... #They were new'), and resist modification (*'We played new cards'; cf. p. 130). But motivating the absence of functional projections over the other categories is less straightforward. Zeller takes referentiality to be central in distinguishing lexical projections from functional ones.

    For AP, Zeller notes that resultatives show agreement in languages with agreement on predicative adjectives (such as Norwegian), and suggests that resultatives do contain an AgrP dominating AP. He suggests that this is connected to referentiality (p. 146), and proposes that non-resultative particle verbs (such as _krankfeiern_, lit. 'sick.celebrate,' meaning 'play hooky') involve bare APs.

    Similarly, he contrasts the referentiality of prefixed particles (such as _heraus_, lit. something like 'hither.out') with the non-referentiality of non-prefixed particles to support the idea that the former are FPs containing PPs, while the latter are bare PPs. He illustrates this with the following examples (p. 139, citing McIntyre 2001).

    (3) a. Peter will einen Kreis ausschneiden. Peter wants a circle out.cut 'Peter wants to cut out a circle' b. Peter will einen Kreis herausschneiden. Peter wants a circle HER.out.cut 'Peter wants to cut a circle out (of some unspecified entity)'

    As another argument for the lack of an FP layer over the particle, Zeller introduces a proposal regarding case assignment by prepositions, where the case assignment properties of prepositions rely on the functional layer FP. If particles lack this layer, they will be unable to assign case.

    Chapters 2 and 3 constitute a well thought out and well reasoned approach to the special status of the verb-particle construction. The rest of the book treats their semantic and morphological status, using advanced tools made available by Jackendoff, Marantz, and Borer.

    Essentially, Zeller's approach to the meanings of particle verbs is that they are idioms (Chapter 4), though the whole picture is somewhat more complex.

    First, since there are productive patterns of particle verb formation, there must be ways to systematically extend their inventory. Here Zeller adopts Stiebels & Wunderlich's (1994) proposal that specific meanings for particular particles can be listed along with a characterization of the class of verbs with which they occur. This approach is discussed further in Chapter 5 with an extended analogy being drawn between the context-sensitive semantic contribution of the particle and context-sensitive morphological phenomena such as allomorphy and stem suppletion (section 5.1).

    Zeller also proposes a condition (p. 169) on particle verbs which is stated in terms of the notion of structural adjacency. It asserts that the special meaning of a particle is only available when the particle is structurally adjacent to V. This is intended to characterize the absence of the FP projection, but also the absence of particles from non- derived nominals (*_der Sprung auf_ 'the jump up,' p. 171).

    The condition of structural adjacency is engineered to allow the statement of a notion of "reanalysis," which is introduced in Chapter 6 to allow morphological structures based on particle verbs to surface as V-zero. The definition of reanalysis (p. 255, p. 257) is constructed to derive several results, for example to prevent a complex P-V from moving to C in V2, while still allowing it to move to the right of V in Dutch verb-raising structures (detailed in Ch. 7).

    Finally, in Chapter 7, the analogous constructions in Dutch and the Scandinavian languages are (rather cursorily) compared with the German one. Zeller assumes that particle shift options (i.e. the options of 'throw the dog out' and 'throw out the dog') reflect the optionality of reanalysis: if PP is a phrasal complement to V, then it is left behind when V moves to v, across the direct object. If V-P is a complex head, then P is carried along when V-P moves. This makes Zeller's analysis of particle shift much like those of Larson (1988) and Johnson (1991).

    CRITICAL EVALUATION The book is a solid and careful piece of research, especially in the first half. It is methodical and clearly written, painstakingly explaining the motivations for assumptions, detailing alternative proposals, and arguing that they should be rejected. Some readers will feel that they did not need so much convincing that particles are phrasal, being satisfied with an example or two of topicalization. But since the morphological analysis lives on, Zeller hammers the point home.

    This book can definitely be used in advanced instruction. I found chapters 1-3 so clearly written and well reasoned that I assigned them to my class of twelve master's students to read. The students agreed that Chapters 2 and 3 were clear, but they seemed to lack the background to fully appreciate the discussion of Jackendoff, Marantz, and Borer in Chapter 1.

    The two most distinctive objects which Zeller brings back out of the jungle are his particular notions of 'structural adjacency' and 'reanalysis' I critically examine them in turn (the first by way of the question of the presence of functional structure), and then summarize.

    Problem 1, the lack of functional structure above the particle (Chapter 3). The idea that particles lack functional structure is important and potentially explanatory in addressing the particle's intermediate status between a bound morpheme and a full-fledged phrase. It is therefore worth a careful examination. Zeller's use of referentiality as a diagnostic for functional structure seems problematic; the 'referentiality' inherent in (3b) surely comes from the incorporated element _her_, which has some deictic function, and on Zeller's assumptions this implies a layer of functional structure. But the connection between the deixis and the FP above PP is less than obvious.

    Zeller (pp. 127-128) invokes Jackendoff's (1983) notion of a representation in a mental 'projected world' in discussing referentiality, but it does not seem that these notions are sharp enough to show why 'in' is not 'referential' in "Come in" (e.g. as a response to a knock on the door).

    Furthermore, some of the arguments for the lack of functional structure in particles seem compromised by the very arguments given in Chapter 2 that they are phrasal; for example, in Chapter 2, examples are given of particles being modified by adverbial material, but in Chapter 3 the impossibility of adjectives with nominal particles is claimed to be evidence that they do not project DP (cf. the discussion above about 'playing (*new) cards').

    I found the non-case-assigning properties of particles a more pleasing consequence of their lacking functional structure, though it is weakened slightly by the dative-taking particle verbs discussed in Chapter 5, section 5.2.

    Perhaps more worrying is the question of what exactly determines when functional structure is projected. Zeller seems to assume that in general, functional layers will be present unless blocked. The mechanism blocking them in the verb-particle construction is the lexical entry, in which the special meaning of the P-V combination is stored. Structural adjacency plays a special role in the storage of lexical meanings (Chapter 5, section 5.2), and structural adjacency is disrupted by functional structure.

    However, given that idiomatic meanings can be stored for idioms containing functional structure (e.g. 'kick the bucket'), it is unclear what status Zeller's structural adjacency constraint actually has. In fact, Zeller explicitly weakens it when he allows (in 5.3) the complex particles with _hin_ and _her_ to have special meanings, on the basis of the structural adjacency of V and F, since the relationship is actually between a V, an F, and a P (e.g. in _herumreiten auf_, lit. 'HER.about.ride on,' meaning 'to harp on' (p. 234)).

    In this context it is worth thinking about what the small clause analysis has to say about particle constructions. (Zeller does not discuss the small clause analysis in any detail.) Given that the predicate is phrasal, the small clause analysis actually requires a functional head. This is because, if the argument were to be projected in the specifier of the lexical projection of P, then that argument would be carried along by movement, for example in the topicalization examples ('Away we chased the dog,' not *'The dog away we chased').

    It also follows from reasonable assumptions that the functional head in the small clause would select a lexical predicate, or at least something other than the argumental functional structure, e.g. it would select NP rather than DP, and plausibly might also take PP rather than FP. As for the adjectival phrase, it is possible that the small clause is a type of AgrP. Now it seems that Zeller's observations about the lexical nature of the particle might follow from the properties of the small clause head rather than from his proposed restriction on particle meanings (that they are licensed only in the context of structural adjacency with V).

    Problem 2, Reanalysis (Chapter 6, Chapter 7). I am skeptical about Zeller's notion of reanalysis; it seems that a productive rule of lexical compounding would stand a better chance of solving the problems raised by nominalizations and other derived forms.

    Reanalysis, according to Zeller, allows the insertion of a V- P in Scandinavian, to derive the V-P-Object order ('throw out the dog'). But this type of analysis has never been able to satisfactorily deal with the fact that P follows V, rather than preceding it, since other complex words in English and Scandinavian are right-headed (especially since Scandinavian does have incorporated P-V structures, for example in passives, as Zeller notes in Chapter 7).

    Zeller must place several restrictions on reanalysis to prevent it from overgenerating. For example, he states that a reanalyzed P-V in German must be further derived (p. 257), in order to prevent P-V from appearing in the second position in V2 clauses, while still allowing very free nominalization and adjectivalization of particle verbs.

    It seems that these and other facts might follow from some reasonable assumptions about compounding. For example, German (like English) freely allows N-N compounding but not N-V compounding. Thus is it possible that similar considerations would allow free P-N compounding (and P-A compounding), but not P-V compounding, replacing Zeller's condition that reanalyzed P-V's be further derived. The meanings of the compounds would derive from the independently needed lexical entries for the particle verbs, which would rule out P compounding with non-derived N.

    Zeller is also forced to assume that there is a lexical entry for 'paint green' in Dutch but not for 'paint violet', since the former but not the latter allows Verb Raising (i.e. the order '...because John the door will green-paint').

    Possibly, considerations of the productivity of compounding might explain why 'green paint' is better than 'violet paint'), without actually requiring 'green paint' to have its own idiosyncratic lexical entry. Interestingly, Snyder (2001) has argued for a very direct connection between the possibility of compounding and the possibility of resultatives, particle verbs, and other complex constructions. On the other hand, the considerations that Zeller raises in Chapter 2 all suggest that Dutch _groen verven_ 'green paint' is not a compound at all, or a reanalyzed word, and that Verb Raising should be analyzed in a different way.

    SUMMARY On the whole, this book is a major contribution to our understanding of verb-particle constructions and is a must- read for anyone who is serious about the construction.

    Some may fault this work for its treatment of previous literature on verb-particle constructions, which could have been more thorough, but I feel that it makes up for any such shortcomings with its originality and the careful attention it pays to the need for precision. Actually, this very strength may also be its greatest drawback, since it is at times almost maddeningly explicit, for example, the discussion on pp. 163-165 of the fact that V-to-C does not interfere with idiomatic readings of V and its complements, where many authors would have been satisfied with a brief footnote saying that verb movement does not generally seem to affect semantic interpretation. The thought occasionally crosses a reader's mind that the book could have been a little shorter -- but only occasionally.

    I end with a few comments about the physical qualities of the book.

    It is handsomely bound and professionally typeset, in keeping with the usual standards for Benjamins' Linguistics Today series (perhaps I should mention as a disclaimer that I have edited a volume in this same series). The index is useful, there are convenient footnotes rather than endnotes, and I noticed very few typographical or printing errors.

    REFERENCES Borer, Hagit. 1991. The causative-inchoative alternation: A case study in parallel morphology. The Linguistic Review 8:119-158.

    Jackendoff, Ray. 1983. Semantics and Cognition. Cambridge, Ma.: MIT Press.

    Johnson, Kyle. 1991. Object positions. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 9:577-636.

    Larson, Richard. 1988. On the double object construction. Linguistic Inquiry 19:335-391.

    McIntyre, Andrew. 2001. German Double Particles as Preverbs: Morphology and Conceptual Semantics. Tuebingen: Stauffenberg (to appear).

    Snyder, William. 2001. On the nature of syntactic variation: Evidence from complex predicates and complex word-formation. Language 77:324-342.

    Stiebels, Barbara, & Dieter Wunderlich. 1994. Morphology feeds syntax: The case of particle verbs. Linguistics 32:913- 968.

    ABOUT THE REVIEWER Peter Svenonius did his undergraduate work at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and received a PhD in linguistics from the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1994. He has been teaching ever since at the University of Tromsoe, which is much warmer than you would expect for a place two hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle, but just as spectacular.