LINGUIST List 24.4216

Fri Oct 25 2013

Review: Morphology; Syntax: Los et al. (2012)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 30-Jun-2013
From: Christina Hoppermann <>
Subject: Morphosyntactic Change
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Bettelou LosAUTHOR: Corrien BlomAUTHOR: Geert BooijAUTHOR: Marion ElenbaasAUTHOR: Ans van KemenadeTITLE: Morphosyntactic ChangeSERIES TITLE: A Comparative Study of Particles and PrefixesPUBLISHER: Cambridge University PressYEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Christina Hoppermann, University of Tübingen, Germany

SUMMARYThis monograph by Los et al. provides a comparative synchronic and diachronicanalysis of particle verbs in English and Dutch, alongside other Germaniclanguages such as German and Gothic. Its main focus is on three relatedaspects: the morphological and syntactic behaviour of particle verbs, theiremergence in the history of the respective language and their relation toinseparable prefix verbs. The book gives a comprehensive account of thesepoints using corpus data. It includes both results of the research project“The diachrony of complex predicates in the West Germanic languages” conductedby the authors and parts of Corrien Blom’s (2005) and Marion Elenbaas’ (2007)dissertations.

Particle verbs are referred to here as “Separable Complex Verbs” (SCVs) forDutch and German, for which particles are realized in preverbal position,whereas the expression “Verb Particle Combination” (VPC) is used forPresent-Day English (PDE), where particles are always postverbal. By analogyto the convention for particle verbs, prefix verbs are termed “InseparableComplex Verbs” (ICVs) due to their morphological behaviour as bound morphemes.With regard to whether SCVs should be treated as words or phrases, the authorssee particles as optionally projecting words with the default option of beingnon-projecting. Further, they conclude that SCVs are both conventionalized andcompositional. The concept of non-projection also bridges the gap between SCVsand ICVs, playing a crucial role in the grammaticalization cline for Dutch andEnglish postulated by the authors, where the grammaticalization of particlesis one source for the emergence of prefixes: The less projecting a preverbbecomes, the more probable is its development into a prefix.

The book is divided into eight chapters that guide the readers through theanalysis. The first two chapters introduce the topic and provide an overviewof the relevant theoretical linguistic background. The other chapters areorganized around three criteria: the mode of approach (synchronic vs.diachronic analysis), the language under investigation (i.e. Dutch, English,or West Germanic languages generally), and the particular (pre-)verb type(SCV, VPC, ICV).

Chapter 1 (“Separable complex verbs”) introduces the fundamentals of separablecomplex verbs and the challenges they pose in terms of analysing theirrelation in between syntax and morphology. Los et al. concentrate on WestGermanic languages with a main focus on English and Dutch, as these twolanguages share certain characteristics as related languages and therebyprovide a basis for both synchronic and diachronic comparison. Historically,Dutch and English complex verbs or, to be more precise, the two languages ingeneral behaved more similar in their older stages than in their present-daycounterparts, For instance, the authors demonstrate that both languages usedto show characteristics of SOV word order and finite verb movement (V2, i.e.Verb Second) whereas PDE has lost both phenomena, leaving particles entirelypostverbal in a syntactic environment of SVO word orders. Examples are alsogiven for Present-Day Dutch (PDD) in comparison with Present-Day German (PDG),as their particles, sharing common origins (i.e. adpositions and adverbs),behave similarly: In contrast to inseparable prefixed verbs, Los et al.confirm that PDD and PDG particles are separable from the base verb and can bepositioned in clause-final position in main clauses due to V-movement,infinitive markers (PDD: ‘te’, PDG: ‘zu’), or participial markers (PDD/PDG:‘ge-’). However, by analogy with inseparable prefixes, particles may likewiseinfluence the lexical aspect (Aktionsart) and the valency of verbs. On thebasis of the established fundamentals of SCVs, the authors list the followingmain research questions:

(1) As SCVs/VPCs cross the line between syntax and morphology, “how can theirsyntactic, semantic and morphological properties be given a satisfactoryaccount” (p. 5)?

(2) Why do English particle verbs behave differently from those in Dutch andGerman (cf. p. 6)?

(3) Focusing on the functional overlap between inseparable and separableprefix verbs, “what does the nature of this functional overlap […] tell usabout the status of both elements? Are inseparable and separable prefixeshistorically related, and if so, do inseparable prefixes represent a particlethat has been further grammaticalized to a bound morpheme? And why wereinseparable prefixes quite comprehensively lost in the history of English?”(p. 6).

Explaining preverbs, Los et al. further hypothesize that the development ofpreverbs and prefixes was a case of the universal mechanism ofgrammaticalization. Refining this, they give a cross-linguistic overview ofpreverbs in Sanskrit, Latin, Gothic, and other Indo-European languages. Theremainder of this chapter provides an outline of the book.

Chapter 2 (“The paradox of particle verbs”) discusses whether particles arewords or phrases using the example of PDD and PDE and giving pro and contraarguments for both options. The authors start from the assumption thatparticles are both, i.e. words that optionally project a phrase (defaultoption: non-projection). They come to the interim conclusion that particlescan neither be analysed merely as words nor only as regular syntactic phrases,since they show hybrid characteristics (i.e. being lexical units while beingconstructed syntactically). Further, they illustrate that particles enable twodifferent word orders: the particle order (adjacency of particle and verb) andthe predicate order (particle and verb are separated from each other). Los etal. claim that particles are grammaticalized predicates that, in view of thegrammaticalization cline, developed from a phrasal XP to an optionallyprojecting head. Independent of whether particles project a phrase or not,they are supposed to function mostly as secondary predicates. The chaptercompletes the picture by taking already existing approaches to the analysis ofparticles into account and touches on the concept of Information Structure(IS) on the choice of particle word order in English. According to IS, theparticle order is chosen if the object is in focus (i.e. the object is inend-focused position) while the predicate order ensures that the particle isin focus (i.e. the particle is in end-focused position).

Chapter 3 (“The synchronic analysis of Dutch SCVs”) gets back to the analysisof particles in SCVs as optionally projecting words using the example ofDutch. The authors identify those cases in which particles project (i.e. showphrase-like properties) and those in which they do not project (i.e.demonstrate word-like properties). They assume that the default option is thatlexical heads do not project unless syntactic factors require them to do so(Structural Economy Principle). Another main aspect of this chapter concernsthe semantic structure of SCVs. Los et al. found out that Dutch and alsoGerman particles have a wider semantic range than their English counterparts:They state that English particles are almost exclusively resultative whereasDutch/German particles may be resultative, but also function as modifiers,relators, or Aktionsart particles. This diversity of particle functions isalso used to infer that the mapping between syntax and semantics is morecomplex in Dutch/German than in English: Although there is such a semanticvariety of particle functions, the particles still share the same syntacticpatterns (i.e. SOV). The authors conclude that the status of the particle isresponsible for the behaviour of the SCV and emphasize that SCVs areproductive as well as both compositional and conventionalized.

On the basis of that synchronic approach, chapter 4 (“The diachronic analysisof Dutch SCVs”) offers a diachronic analysis of Dutch SCVs. Thegrammaticalization cline is addressed again, indicating that particlesdeveloped unidirectionally from phrases into optionally projecting words andultimately into prefixes. In this context, Los et al. state thatgrammaticalization is accompanied by semantic change, which is often connectedwith univerbation. They suggest adjacency as a necessary condition forgrammaticalization and perform a diachronic analysis of the different particlefunctions (i.e. resultative, modifying, relator, and continuative particles),which confirms the assumption that adjacency is given in all cases.Reanalysing combinations of phrases and verbs as SCVs, different sources arefound for the aforementioned particles types: resultative phrases, modifierphrases and postpositions. Another general phenomenon, highlighted in view ofgrammaticalization, is the coexistence of old and new structures. Theremainder of the chapter briefly outlines the diachrony of nominal andadjectival particle types, showing that -- apart from verbs -- elements of allmajor syntactic categories have the potential to develop into particles sothat they enable a reanalysis as SCVs.

Chapter 5 (“The lexical decomposition of Present-Day English verb particlecombinations”) shifts the focus from Dutch particles to VPCs in Present-DayEnglish. According to the authors, English VPCs differ from Dutch SCVs in twomain aspects: First, they take as a starting point that the separation of aparticle from its base verb is not motivated by syntactic mechanisms (such asV2) but by means of Information Structure. Thereby, it is deduced that Englishenables its particles to be both projecting and non-projecting: They aredefined as being non-projecting by default (particle order) and, in accordancewith the Structural Economy Principle, projecting when modified (predicateorder). Only idioms are given as an exception in that they only allow one wordorder (freezing). Second, the authors construct the argument that particlesare almost exclusively resultative and thus do not dispose of such a largesemantic variety of functions as in Dutch. As one source of these differences,Los et al. mention the general development of the two languages in languagehistory, as they induced distinct basic word orders (English: SVO vs. Dutch:SOV).

Chapter 6 (“The diachrony of the English verb particle combination”)completes the treatment of VPCs in English with a diachronic analysis. Theauthors start from the Old English (OE) period in which particles behavedsimilarly to present-day SCVs in being used in preverbal position (defaultcase) and occurring in postverbal position only due to V-movement. Further,the decline of the ICV system is mentioned and given as the result offunctional overlaps between coexisting SCVs and ICVs in OE that wereeventually taken over by particles. Los et al. analyse the status of particlesas phrasal secondary predicates in origin undergoing a process ofgrammaticalization. They stress that the loss of SOV word order in the MiddleEnglish (ME) period, accompanied by a loss of V-movement, gave birth to theSVO word order, which is still used in PDE and which caused particles tobecome exclusively postverbal. Los et al. claim that it was possibly this lossof syntactic independence and increase in the syntactic bond between verb andparticle that led to a change of VPCs into fixed morphosyntacticconstructions.

After focusing exclusively on separable particle verbs, chapter 7 (“Thediachrony of prefixes in West Germanic”) gives a comparative diachronicanalysis of the productive and often cognate prefixes in ICVs in WestGermanic, as well as in Gothic, an East Germanic language. Prefixes, as noted,constitute the final stage of the grammaticalization cline posited, althoughit is stressed that not every ICV needs to be derived from an SCV. ICVs canalso be formed on the basis of derivational templates, accounting for the factthat prefixes are used in both types of ICVs, the old and the new system. Dueto their common historical origin, it is highlighted that ICVs in the oldsystem are functionally equivalent to SCVs when referring to complex eventsthat entail a change of state in resultative structures. In this context, Loset al. assume that the resulting doublings of particles and prefixes in OEreinforce the assumption that OE prefixes lost their meanings as theirfunctions could be taken over by the SCV system. This is given as one factorthat may have led to the final loss of the ICV system. In contrast, the newsystem proposed is not resultative but, being adpositional in origin andmultidirectional, similar to relator (path) particles and only licences Groundparticipants while unidirectional SCVs licence both Ground and Figureparticipants. Los et al. conclude that resultative and non-resultativepreverbs show a divergent diachronic development and that semantic changeprecedes morphosyntactic change in terms of grammaticalization.

The final chapter 8 (“Conclusions”) repeats the research questions initiallyposed by the authors and answers them by recapitulating the main findings ofthe study.

EVALUATIONThe book under review is mainly intended for historical or general linguistsinterested in the morphosyntactic study of particle and prefix verbs, whethermonolingual or cross-linguistic, synchronic or diachronic, or types of(pre-)verb (SCV, VPC, ICV). Background knowledge in prefix/particle verbs orin the general history of West Germanic languages -- in particular of Dutchand English -- is advantageous for understanding the study’s overall context,but is not necessary. Thus, the book can be read by both more and lessexperienced scholars.

The volume is logically structured around the three criteria introduced at thebeginning of this review: the mode of approach, the language underinvestigation, and the particular (pre-)verb type. Although the division intothe respective chapters explicitly reflects this structure, it is notrecommendable to read the chapters independently from each other: Theindividual chapters build upon another in terms of content and problems mayarise due to the numerous cross and back references, which sometimes interruptthe reading flow. Consequently, the book is not suitable as a reference work.

The authors elaborately answer their research questions and thus fulfil theirgoals of exploring the morphosyntactic and functional behaviour of particleverbs, their historical development, and their relation to inseparable prefixverbs. They perform both synchronic and diachronic cross-linguistic analysesand present them in a coherent and comprehensible manner.

One of the strengths of the book is the wealth of details. Los et al. reachout to take various perspectives and dichotomies into account (i.e. synchronicvs. diachronic, English vs. Dutch, prefix vs. particle verb). For all focalpoints, they discuss existing approaches at great length and relate them totheir own results. Still, from the reader’s point of view, such a wealth ofdetails also risks losing the thread in view of identifying the authors’assumptions and conclusions.

Another positive factor is that the authors base their findings on examples ofactual language usage. They do not limit themselves to only collecting thoseexamples, but also interpret them thoroughly so that they are able to drawrelevant conclusions.

The book’s shortcomings mainly concern aspects of scientific practice. Theauthors do not explicitly specify the underlying data from which examples aretaken or on which they base their conclusions. Instead, the corpora used inthe study are only listed in the appendix. The only exceptions are examplesentences quoted from other studies for which corresponding references aregiven. A separate chapter or an additional section in the introductionspecifying both the method and the data used in the analysis would have beenwelcome. That would also have made it possible to extend the potentialreadership of the book by addressing corpus linguists or more data-orientedresearchers in general. Furthermore, additional secondary literature shouldhave been cited in some passages of the book. For instance, in dealing withlocative alternations (e.g. p. 179, p. 190), Levin (1993) should have beenquoted -- especially since Los et al. make explicit reference to alternationsin English.

Apart from these aspects, there are only a few improvements that could havebeen made, all involving cross-linguistic comparisons. For instance, moreanalogies could have been drawn between Dutch and German (such as Dewell 2011)in the context of path particles (Figure, Ground). This also applies to theaspect of compositional semantics of prefix and particle verbs briefly dealtwith in chapter 7. Although the chapter title suggests that this aspect wouldbe contextualized with other Germanic data, the focus is on Dutch. As one ofthe main conclusions is that particles are both compositional andconventionalized, it would be helpful to elaborate on this aspect ofcompositionality, as comparable studies already exist for other languages(e.g. Mungan 1986, Stiebels 1999 for German). These minor points of criticismprovide a significant potential for future research in terms of performingcross-linguistic comparisons in more detail on the basis of the authors’results of the present study.

In conclusion, the book’s insights outweigh its weaknesses and I recommendthis book to all scholars interested in the comparative, synchronic, ordiachronic study of particles and prefixes from a morphosyntactic point ofview.

REFERENCESBlom, Corrien (2005). Complex Predicates in Dutch: Synchrony and Diachrony.Utrecht: LOT Dissertation Series 111.

Dewell, Robert B. (2011). The Meaning of Particle/Prefix Constructions inGerman. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Elenbaas, Marion (2007). The Synchronic and Diachronic Syntax of the EnglishVerb-Particle Combination. Utrecht: LOT.

Levin, Beth (1993). English Verb Classes and Alternations: A PreliminaryInvestigation. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Mungan, Güler (1986). Die semantische Interaktion zwischen dem präfigierendenVerbzusatz und dem Simplex bei deutschen Partikel- und Präfixverben. Frankfurtam Main: Peter Lang.

Stiebels, Barbara (1999). Lexikalische Argumente und Adjunkte: Zumsemantischen Beitrag von verbalen Präfixen und Partikeln. Berlin: AkademieVerlag.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERChristina Hoppermann is a PhD student and researcher working at the chair ofGeneral and Computational Linguistics in the Department of Linguistics at theUniversity of Tübingen. Her main research interests include (compositional)lexical-semantic phenomena at the syntax-semantics interface based ontext-technological and data-driven methods (such as corpus analyses), Germanprefix and particle verbs, lexical-semantic networks and compound-internallexical relations.

Page Updated: 25-Oct-2013