LINGUIST List 24.482

Sun Jan 27 2013

Review: Morphology; Semantics; Syntax: Felfe (2012)

Editor for this issue: Monica Macaulay <>

Date: 07-Dec-2012
From: Stefano Quaglia <>
Subject: Das System der Partikelverben mit ''an'' [The System of Particle Verbs with ''an'' in German]
E-mail this message to a friend

Discuss this message

Book announced at

AUTHOR: Marc FelfeTITLE: Das System der Partikelverben mit "an" [The System of Particle Verbs with "an" in German]SUBTITLE: Eine konstruktionsgrammatische UntersuchungSERIES TITLE: De Gruyter Sprache und Wissen 12PUBLISHER: De Gruyter MoutonYEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Stefano Quaglia, Universität Konstanz


This book is a revised version of Marc Felfe's (henceforth, MF) PhDdissertation. The main subject of the study is German Particle VerbConstructions (PVCs) with the particle ‘an’. The core meaning of thehomophonous (and related) preposition ‘an’ is a contact relation between aFigure and the external region of a Ground (Stiebels 1996:89). The authorclaims that standard compositional analyses - starting out from the assumptionof a minimal argument-structure for verb and particle - can predictapproximately fifty percent of the overall transparent form-meaning pairsexhibited by PVCs with ‘an’. Such analyses would be then forced to assumefurther machinery and operations affecting argument structures. MF arguesinstead for a holistic approach, modeled in the framework of ConstructionGrammar (CG): the PVCs under scrutiny are claimed to result from the fusion ofabstract argument-structure constructions and verb-classes.

Chapter 1 (“Einführung” [Introduction]) starts out with the observation thatoften one and the same verb can be used to build syntactically andsemantically different PVCs with ‘an’. An example is given for the verb‘tanzen’ [to dance], which appears in (at least) five PVCs. Two additionalremarks follow: for one, although the presented constructions do notcorrespond to the primary, canonical uses of ‘tanzen’, speakers of German haveno problems in interpreting them correctly. For another, if other verbs areused with the same constructions, the resulting event-types do not change.These premises enable the author to list the main research questions of thestudy: what licenses the combination of verb (classes) and ‘an’? How can themeaning contribution of each component be captured? What should acompositional analysis of the PVCs at stake look like? After a sketch of theanalysis to be proposed, the structure of the book is presented to the reader,and the analysis of different corpora is described as the main empirical basisof the work (in line with the usage-based approach of CG).

Chapter 2 (“Eigenschaften von PVK” [Properties of PVCs]) illustrates thebehavior of German PVCs with respect to word order (adjacency vs. separationof verb and particle; fronting of the particle), syntactic and semanticautonomy of its components ((im)possibility for the particle to appear inisolation and/or to be modified), and lexicalization and argument-structurechanges. The author provides a brief survey of morphological and syntacticgenerative analyses of German PVCs, and shows that neither can do justice ofall the properties listed above. MF claims that a crucial error of bothapproaches lies in the assumption of a strict modularity of the grammar, andthus prepares the ground for an analysis where no sharp boundaries are putbetween lexicon and syntax.

In Chapter 3 (“Kompositionalität” [Compositionality]), MF brings argumentsagainst approaches that assume argument-structure-altering processes(functional composition, argument extension) as a central machinery forexplaining the licensing of spatial particles and additional argument slots.For example, instead of deriving one argument structure from the other ( applicativization), the author argues for the existence of two separateargument-structure constructions, encoding different event-types. The analysisis then presented to the reader: PVCs with ‘an’ result from the fusion ofargument constructions (form-meaning pairings consisting of argumentalXP-slots and underspecified event structures) and verb classes. The fusionoccurs via conventionalized semantic and pragmatic implicatures.

Chapter 4 (“Was bedeutet Konstruktionsgrammatik?” [What does ConstructionGrammar mean?]) introduces basic assumptions of CG. Different theoreticalapproaches situated within CG are compared with respect to issues like thenature of grammar, formalization, and predictive power. MF then presents thedefinition of 'construction' he adopts, and discusses varying parameters likeformal complexity, generality, compositionality, and productivity.

Chapter 5 (“Verblexeme” [Verbal lexemes]) focuses on frame semantics,presented as an alternative to a sharp separation between linguistic andconceptual information associated with lexemes. Both cognitive premises and adetailed introduction to frame semantics are offered to the reader. As afurther clarification, a frame is proposed for the German verb ‘tanzen’ [todance]. A sample of the most frequent syntactic contexts where this verboccurs is then brought as an example of the syntactic filling of differentframe slots.

In Chapter 6 (“Argumentkonstruktionen mit ‘an’” [Argument Constructions with‘an’]), MF explains how argument constructions work. Syntactically identicalPVCs with ‘an’ can be either homonymous instances of (semantically) differentargument constructions, or polysemous instantiations of the same construction(via metonymy or metaphor). The author claims that many 'minimal pairs' ofPVCs - traditionally analyzed as alternative realizations of one and the sameargument structure - do not actually stand in relation to each other. In asecond part, possible representation formats for form and meaning of argumentconstructions are critically discussed. MF opts for a formal side withcase-marked XP-slots and a semantic side containing variables and a schematiccharacterization of the event-type.

Chapter 7 (“Einzelne Argumentkonstruktionen mit ‘an’” [Single ArgumentConstructions with ‘an’]) is, together with the following two chapters, thecore of MF's analysis. Eight argument construction groups are presented to thereader (names, examples and translations follow):

(1)(a) Change of Place and State: ‘NPnom NPacc an-kleben’ [to glue, to paste NP](b) Startup: ‘NPnom NPacc an-schalten’ [to switch NP on](c) State of contact: ‘NPnom an-grenzen’ [to abut, to border](d) Intensification: ‘NPnom an-steigen’ [to increase](e) Directionality: ‘NPnom NPacc an-lächeln’ [to smile at NP](f) Force vs. Counterforce: ‘NPnom gegen NPacc an-kämpfen’ [to fight againstNP](g) Partiality: ‘NPnom NPacc an-lesen’ [to read NP not until the end](h) Perception: ‘NPnom NPdat NPacc an-merken’ [to notice NP on NP]

Each group comprises different but related argument constructions, which showvarying degrees of productivity. Besides a detailed description and discussionof every construction, four digressions focus on issues pertaining to singlegroups (medial PVCs, lexicalization of the particle, problems in individuatinginstances of a given construction, and the function of ‘an’ asconstruction-specific marker).

Chapter 8 (“Das System der Partikelverben mit ‘an’” [The system of ParticleVerbs with ‘an’]) provides a deeper scrutiny of how the eight main groups, theargument constructions belonging to each one, and finally the instances ofthese (i.e., the actual PVCs) stay in a relation to each other, from both aquantitative and a qualitative point of view. In the first part, quantitativeresults regarding the type-frequency are presented (by means of figures andcharts) and discussed; in the second part, the author introduces the conceptof 'inheritance link', which offers a way of formalizing hierarchicalrelations among constructions, between constructions and their instances, andeven between more and less general instances.

Chapter 9 (“Fusion und Gebrauch” [Fusion and Usage]) addresses the issue ofthe integration of argument constructions and verb classes. After a digressionon the great productivity of PVCs in German(ic), the author considers singleargument constructions with respect to the verbs they can appear with. Thefusion of constructions and verb classes obtains via usage-driven'fusion-routines' (regulated by conventionalized implicatures), paradigmaticforms and contrast with other constructions. Argument constructions can eitherprofile slots already contained in a verb frame, or can contribute argumentson their own.

In Chapter 10 (“Ein- und Ausblick” [Overview and Outlook]), MF recapitulatesboth issues and findings. He then points out additional desiderata for futureresearch and proposes two practical applications of the study. An appendixfollows, where all the PVCs taken into consideration are divided according tothe argument constructions they belong to.


MF's investigation can be of interest to both the theoretically and theempirically oriented linguist. On the one hand, it addresses problemsregarding the argument structure of particle verbs that have been (and stillare) matters of theoretical debate (cf. McIntyre (2007), Roßdeutscher (2012),Svenonius (2003), Stiebels (1996)). On the other hand, the detailedclassification of the data presents challenges for the implementation ofcomputational resources (cf. also Springorum et al. (2012)). Moreover,attention is paid to old vocabularies and lexicons, which completes thesynchronic corpus-based investigation with insights on the historicaldevelopment of single PVCs. This makes the study profitable reading also forlanguage historians. Since the book is written in German, however, it isaccessible first and foremost to Germanists. This is an undesirablelimitation, for the author's constructionist analysis features non-standardsolutions that could stimulate an interesting discussion within the world-wideCG community. Therefore, the reviewer thinks that an additional, smallerpublication in English would be useful for a better circulation of MF's work.

Besides giving a detailed classification of the PVCs at stake, the authorundertakes an accurate scrutiny of the data in terms of degrees ofproductivity. The reader can thus acquire information about which argumentconstructions are fully productive, which ones are semi-productive, which onesbuild a niche, and which ones have been fully lexicalized. This is often aneglected topic in works (especially theoretical ones) dealing with German(ic)particles. Moreover, the constructionist analysis defended by MF fits the datanicely. As regards argument constructions encoding Directionality, for example(‘NPacc an-lächeln’ [to smile at NP]), both a typical pragmatic value (actionsconnoted as 'negative') and contrast formation are claimed to be crucialfactors motivating productivity. The first factor explains occasional use ofnouns and adjectives as bases for 'an-verbs' (e.g. ‘NPacc an-kröten’ [to callNP a toad] < N ‘Kröte’ [toad; contemptible person]): as MF points out, thereseem to exist no denominal or de-adjectival formations exempt from thisnegative value. On the other hand, the entailment of 'partial affectedness'common to many 'an-verbs' of this class emerges as a result of a systematiccontrast to verbs with the prefix ‘be-’, which denote 'totally affecting'actions (e.g. ‘NPacc an-grabschen’ [to grab NP] vs. ‘NPacc begrabschen’ [topaw NP]). In sum, this study confronts scholars of different theoreticalpersuasions with one important issue: how to incorporate a sustainableexplanation of varying degrees of productivity in a given analysis of particleverbs (a contribution in this direction is Roßdeutscher (2012)).

A quite strong claim of this work is that there are hardly any semantic orstructural restrictions on the usage of PVCs with ‘an’. The combination ofverbs and argument constructions is governed by semantic and pragmaticimplicatures, but these are not interpreted as constraints on possible PVCs.Rather, they allow for 'prototypical predictions' on expectable vs.unexpectable ones. This conclusion is supported by a case-study on the verb‘schlafen’ [to sleep]. Although this verb does not belong to any verb classthat normally combines with ‘an’, it can occasionally occur in some of theargument constructions listed in (1), yielding fully transparent structures.It is up to future research to falsify or confirm the author's thesis. If itturned out to be tenable, then the question to raise would be what exactlylicenses this absence of constraints.

The book offers a different view of PVC-pairs like ‘Farbe (an die Wand)an-streichen’ [to spread varnish (on a wall)] vs. ‘die Wand (mit Farbe)an-streichen’ [to cover a wall (with varnish)]. Such pairs are usuallyanalyzed as alternants where the particle ‘an’ licenses either a Figure or aGround. From both a semantic and a syntactic point of view, the phenomenonbears similarity to the familiar 'spray/load'-alternation (cf. Stiebels(1996:105-6)). What MF argues for, on the contrary, is that the two structuresappearing in the alleged ‘an-streichen’-alternation instantiate differentargument constructions. The first one is an instance of Change of Place/Statein (1a), the second one corresponds to the construction encodingDirectionality in (1e). According to the author, then, no 'Ground-Promotion'(cf. McIntyre (2007)) obtains here. Real 'promotion'-phenomena do exist, butthey are always licensed by a metonymy relation between the referents of twoarguments. An example is ‘Erde an-schütten’ [to bank up earth] vs. ‘einen Damman-schütten’ [to build up a bank], where there is a causal contiguityrelation. The hypothesis that metonymy is what really triggers 'promotion' isinteresting, and it would be worth testing with respect to other German PVCswhere similar phenomena can be found (e.g. particle verbs with ‘aus’ [out],cf. McIntyre (2001: 275-9)).

In addition to the previous issues, German PVCs with ‘an’ also presentdifficulties in identifying the precise aspectual contribution supplied by theparticle. In particular, this is the case for the argument constructions in(1e) (Directionality) and in (1g) (Partiality) (cf. Stiebels (1996: 162-5;78-82)). With respect to PVCs encoding Directionality, the author convincinglyargues that - at least in some cases - they can be characterized asunspecified for perfectivity (attained vs. unattained result). Theconstruction encoding Partiality is discussed in detail, too (e.g. pp. 30-31;156-9; 218-223). MF challenges the common assumption that ‘an’ here does notaffect the argument structure of the verb, bringing examples where a(qualitative or quantitative) change is indeed the case. The aspectual importof this construction is extensively explained to the reader, but a preciseformalization is not provided. This would have been a welcome contribution,since a formal description of this use of ‘an’ is hardly given in theliterature (Springorum (2011) being an exception).

This shortcoming aside, MF's study succeeds in providing insightfulobservations that the literature on the topic still lacked. All central issuesabout PVCs with ‘an’ are tackled, and the proposed analysis covers the wholespectrum of meanings exhibited by the data. Although single aspects of theaccount may be criticized by scholars working in different frameworks, theoverall picture appears to be complete and coherent. This makes this monographa model for future case-studies on single particles. In sum, I recommend thisbook to all scholars interested in the investigation of German(ic) particleverbs.


McIntyre, Andrew. 2001. German Double Particles as Preverbs: Morphology andConceptual Semantics. Tübingen: Stauffenburg. (Studien zur deutschen Grammatik61).

McIntyre, Andrew. 2007. “Particle verbs and argument structure”, In Languageand Linguistics Compass 1(4):350-397.

Roßdeutscher, Antje. 2012. “Hidden quantification in prefix and particleverbs”, in: Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung 16, MIT, (in press).

Springorum, Sylvia, Sabine Schulte im Walde and Antje Roßdeutscher. 2012.“Automatic Classification of German an Particle Verbs” In: Proceedings of the8th International Conference on Language Resources and Evaluation. Istanbul,Turkey, May 2012.

Springorum, Sylvia. 2011. “Drt-based analysis of the German verb particle an”.Leuvense Bijdragen 97.

Svenonius, Peter. 2003. “Limits on P: Filling in holes vs. falling in holes”in Nordlyd 31.2: 431-445.

Stiebels, Barbara. 1996. Lexikalische Argumente und Adjunkte: zum semantischenBeitrag verbaler Präfixe und Partikeln. Studia Grammatica 39. Berlin: AkademieVerlag.


Stefano Quaglia is a Ph.D. student at the Department of Linguistics,University of Konstanz. His research interests include Italian and Germanicparticle verbs, the syntax and semantics of adpositional elements, and theirinteraction with the argument structure of verbs.

Page Updated: 27-Jan-2013