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Review of  Verb-Particle Explorations

Reviewer: Annie Zaenen
Book Title: Verb-Particle Explorations
Book Author: Nicole Dehé Ray Jackendoff Andrew McIntyre Silke Urban
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Subject Language(s): Dutch
Issue Number: 15.1229

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Date: Thu, 15 Apr 2004 16:07:50 PDT
From: Annie Zaenen
Subject: Verb-Particle Explorations

Dehé, Nicole, Ray Jackendoff, Andrew McIntyre and Silke Urban, ed.
(2002) Verb-Particle Explorations. Mouton de Gruyter, Interface
Explorations 1.

Annie Zaenen, PARC & Stanford University.

Verb-particle combinations fascinate syntacticians because they don't
fall neatly within the distinctions one wants to draw between syntax
and morphology and between idioms and compositional constructions.
Given this, they bring out the most creative tendencies in linguists
and have led to a great variety of treatments. This book contains 14
articles giving various perspectives on and discussing various aspects
of verb-particle combination in Germanic languages. One important
family of proposals en vogue during the 1990s, however, is not
represented, the small clause analysis. The material is divided in two
sections: syntactic, morphological and semantic perspectives and
statistical and psycholinguistic ones. The language data examined are
from English, Dutch, German, Swedish, Norwegian. Some contributions
concentrate on a particular language, others contain comparative

The editors define a particle as 'an accented element which is formally
(and, often, semantically) related to a preposition, which does not
assign case to a complement and which displays various syntactic and
semantic symptoms of what may informally be called a close relationship
with a verb, but without displaying the phonological unity with it
typical of affixes.'(p.3) The discussion in the book shows that the
formal relation to a preposition is not taken to be defining for

Two articles give useful and well-written overviews of verb-particle
constructions in one language and propose a 'constructional' view on
the morphology/syntax debate: Separable complex verbs in Dutch: A case
of periphrastic word formation by Geert Booij and Ray Jackendoff's
English particle constructions, the lexicon, and the autonomy of syntax

Booij's contribution summarizes the characteristics of Dutch particles
and defends a commonsensical, intermediate solution to the
morphology/syntax debate: V-P combinations are constructional idioms:
they are phrases but they are created in the lexicon. Booij points to
the existence of periphrastic forms in inflectional paradigms as a
phenomenon of similar nature. His approach appeals to notions of
Construction Grammar but is by and large presented in non-formal terms.

Jackendoff's contribution distinguishes six different semantic classes
of verb-particle combinations in English. The fact that they have the
same syntax is construed as an argument for the autonomy of syntax.
Jackendoff observes that the differences in argument structure and
lexical status that, in some of the cases, could be used as arguments
for binary structures do not generalize to all the cases and that, if
one assumes syntactic uniformity, only a flat VP structure is
compatible with all the data. This conclusion goes against much of the
recent literature assuming small-clauses and Larsonian shells. In less
than thirty pages the article manages to summarize most of the facts
and arguments for several different analyses and to make a clear point:
if you don't confuse syntax and semantics and take all the facts into
account most recent proposals don't cut the mustard and both sides of
the small clause/verb+particle complex controversy can be dismissed.

Jochen Zeller, in Particle verbs are heads and phrases, takes, as his
title indicates, the position that verb-particle combinations can be
represented in two ways, as heads and as phrases. He aims at a unified
approach for OV (Dutch and German) and VO (English and Norwegian)
languages. The main ingredient of his proposal is a double syntactic
analysis that is obtained through a restructuring of the VP dominating
a PartP plus a V0 to a V0 dominating a Part0 and a V0. [The '0' in 'V0'
and 'Part0' should be read as superscripts. --Ed.] The conditions on
this restructuring and on the various movement rules that interact with
the verb-particle combination should account for the facts discussed,
mainly the appearance of verbal morphology on the verb, the movement of
the verb only to V2 position, the non-scrambling of the particle and
its restricted topicalization, the distribution of modifiers within the
verb-particle construction. With respect to the latter, I have the
impression that the Dutch facts described here are rather

Contrary to the conciliatory proposals described above, Jaap van
Marle's Dutch separable compound verbs: Words rather than phrases?
attacks the problem of the morphological versus syntactic status of
particle verbs head-on, concluding that they are words and comparing
them to compound verbs such as 'mastklimmen' (poleclimb), which he
terms DCV. The thesis of the author is that particle verbs and DCV's
form one class and that much of the defective behavior of these verbs
can be reduced to their inability to occur in verb second position.
The discussion is rather sloppy but it brings out a couple of
interesting points about verbs like 'mastklimmen'. The description
given of their morphological distribution seems more adequate than the
one assumed in Booij in this volume. But, in my opinion, these
clarifications don't lead to a convincing argument in favor of the
morphological view.

A couple of papers check the constraints on particle preposing that
have been proposed in the literature against the data from corpus
analysis. And up it rises: Particle preposing in English by Bert
Cappelle subjects the English data to this test and Stefan Müller's
Syntax and Morphology: German particle verbs looks at the German facts.

Cappelle uses 478 sentences from the CobuildDirect corpus to show that
the syntactic 'constraints' proposed (only literal meaning, no
auxiliaries, only intransitives and only in main clauses) are only
tendencies. As far as literal meaning goes, the requirement can be
maintained but needs a reinterpretation of what literal meaning is.
After observing that there is a tendency to equate literal meaning with
spatio-directional meaning, Cappelle shows that it is rather difficult
to maintain that all preposed particles have such a meaning. He
proposes to define the meaning of a particle as literal "if its meaning
is constant across different verb-particle constructions"(p. 56). This
seems reasonable but the paper doesn't discuss the way particle and
verb meaning is combined in enough detail to ascertain whether it can
indeed be maintained.

The other constraints on preposing are discussed as consequences of the
pragmatics of preposing. One function, bringing the particle into
focus, has often been discussed. Cappelle claims there are two others:
giving clause final focus to the subject or to the verb. These
different functions account for different distributions: when particle-
focusing is the main goal, the subject will often be a pronoun, whereas
when subject focusing is intended it will be a heavy NP. Different
particles seem to have a preference for one of the two possibilities.
The no-auxiliary constraint is also not absolute and is supposed to
follow as a tendency from the focusing functions of the construction.
The analysis goes some ways to explaining the lack of direct objects in
particle preposing because it would lead to two focused constituents in
a row in the case of subject-focusing. When the subject is a pronoun,
and hence not focused, it can co-occur with particle preposing. Full
NPs are also shown to co-occur with preposed particles when they are
highly salient.

Müller's contribution also relies exclusively on examples found in real
texts. Using those he shows that most constraints on the preposing of
particles in German don't hold water. The article concludes that most
of the arguments that have been given for particles as morphological
objects cannot be upheld in face of the data. For a formal treatment
of German verb-particle constructions the article refers to Müller's
2000 thesis on Complex Predicates.

The meaning of particles is an important topic given the claims on
particle fronting as we have seen; it is also important in the debate
about idiomaticity as opposed to compositionality of meaning. Capelle
tries to extend the class of compositional combinations by appealing to
a meaning that is constant across verb-particle combinations. Andrew
McIntyre also argues for construction-specific meanings in Idiosyncracy
in particle verbs. For instance the particle down would have the same
meaning in brush down, clean down, wash down, etc. It indicates that
"the action is performed on a substantial part of the entity appearing
as an object". If one accepts construction-specific meanings, many
more verb-particle combinations are 'compositional' than under an
approach such as the one proposed by Wurmbrand (2000) where only
particles that can occur in a copular construction and that can be
contrasted with another one are compositional. This means that for
instance the topicalization test which is often used in German and
Dutch to determine whether a verb-particle construction is idiomatic or
not cannot be take at face value because it seems to be subject to
conditions that are stronger than those on the notion of
compositionality defended here. Some of the data in Müller's paper
reinforce this point.

When one accepts MacIntyre's idea of construction-specific meanings for
certain particles, restrictions on productivity need to be accounted
for. The author discusses some potential solutions to this without
coming to a crisp and general account. But in doing so he provides
interesting examples of the similarities and differences between
English and German particle verbs.

Two articles are explicitly comparative.

In Particle placement, Ad Neeleman attempts to account for the
differences in particle placement between Dutch and English. In
English the particle can show up in various positions depending on the
form of the complement (DP or PP), in Dutch the position is next to the
verb (in underlying structure) independent of the form of the verbal
complement. Neeleman claims that the difference is due to a OV/VO
parameter setting in the base. To a non-believer the assumptions that
are needed to make this work are ad-hoc but they are mostly stated up-
front (with only a couple tucked away in footnotes) and once they are
accepted the mechanics hum pleasantly along to account for the basic
contrasts in position given in the beginning of the paper.

Fabrice Nicol in Extended VP-shells and the verb-particle construction
starts from an analysis of the English facts and extends it to
Scandinavian. His theoretical starting point is Larson's analysis of
ditransitives, here recast in the Minimalist framework as the Extended
VP-Shell Hypothesis (EVPS). Extra Wps and Xps are used to stuff verbs
and particles in and to allow them to move picking up or shedding
whatever is needed to get the facts that this paper focuses on: the
constraint on wh-extraction out the NP in the VP-NP-Part structure, the
difference in grammaticality in the different orders of ditransitive
particle combinations, and the difference in particle modification
between the V-NP-Particle and the V-particle-NP structure.

The ratio of assumptions to observations in this paper is beyond what I
consider explanatory but aficionados of Minimalist approaches might
find it 'on the right track'. The paper is peppered with 'assumptions',
'suggestions', 'conjectures' and 'hypotheses' and reads as a parody.

Scandinavian verb-particle combinations are also the topic of Ida
Toivonen's Swedish particles and syntactic projection. Taking an LFG
perspective, she tries to determine whether the idiosyncrasies of
particles are due to their special status as a syntactic category or as
a grammatical function. She argues that they do not form a special
syntactic category but can belong to a number of them and that they are
not in a one-to-one correspondence with a grammatical function either
(particles can have a resultative, locative or aspectual function and
resultatives and locatives can be expressed without particles). She
proposes to treat them as non-projecting words that are head-adjoined
to the verb. Whether a word is projecting or not is a lexical
property. The proposal leads to the introduction of type of a phrase
structure rule that is unique in Swedish but that is argued to fall
within a typology of clitic-like elements.

The remainder of the articles do not focus on the syntax of particles
but rather on their psycholinguistic aspects. The first one, The
influence of processing on syntactic variation: Particle placement in
English by Stefan Gries claims that the long list of factors that have
been invoked as influencing the choice between the Part-NP or NP-Part
order in English can, when indeed relevant, be subsumed under a
processing hypothesis according to which a message is formulated to
communicate it with as little processing effort as possible. I find
this a bit too general to be of much use and in my view the main value
of the paper lies in the mono- and multi-factorial analysis that the
author presents of 20 variables associated with the choice between the
two orders. Unfortunately, it is presented in a very terse form and to
my untrained eye not all the correlations seemed convincing, especially
given the small set of data. Overall the General Linear Model used is
a promising way to approach problems of variation but it might have
been overapplied here.

Dieter Hillert and Farrell Ackerman in Accessing and parsing phrasal
predicates observe that the study of particle verbs can throw light on
the psychological status of words. One can see the verb-particle
combination as one unit from a content point of view and as two units
from a formal one. They review some psycholinguistic evidence that
seems to suggest that as far as early lexical access is concerned,
verb-particles are accessed as semantic units even when they are
presented discontinuously in the sentence. They speculate on the
general form of access to the mental lexicon which might well be
modular, accessing morphology, syntax and semantics separately.

Lexical processing is also studied in German particle verbs and word
formation by Anke Lüdeling and Nivja de Jong. The paper argues that the
verb-particle combinations are not different from other phrasal
entities such as resultatives and that the main difference is between
opaque and transparent combinations. Their dictionary and corpus
studies show that they are mainly opaque combinations that undergo word
formation processes (mainly -ung nominalizations) but their
psycholinguistic experiment shows that opaque and transparent verb-
particle combinations behave the same way with respect to lexical
priming: in both cases the reaction times correlated with the size of
the morphological family. This points to the conclusion that even
opaque combinations have composite entries in the mental lexicon.
These results are different from those reported in the previous paper
but the tasks are also different (the material presented in the
previous article consisted of sentences; here individual words were
presented) as is the type of complexity assumed: semantic versus
morphological. As far as the main thesis proposed in this paper, the
experiment seems not to have provided conclusive evidence.

The last paper, Parsing verb particle constructions: An approach based
on event-related potentials (ERP) by Silke Urban, uses a different
method to shed light on the complexity of verb-particles and on the
relation between simple verbs and verb-particle combinations. Event-
related potentials are obtained by measuring the voltage changes on the
human skull at a given moment (e.g. 400 milliseconds) after a
triggering event has occurred. The reported experiments show that in a
construction such as 'Er lächelte den Arbeiter an' (He smiled at the
worker) containing the verb-particle combination anlächeln the verb is
first interpreted in the same way as an intransitive verb (lächeln: to
smile) and later we get an effect when the particle appears that can be
interpreted as an integration or reindexing effect. This paper is the
worst edited of the whole volume with references to non-existing
examples and typos of all sorts. It should also have been read by a
native speaker of English.

As this overview of the individual contributions indicates, this
collection does not present the last word on verb-particle
constructions. The collection is interesting because of the wide
diversity of points of view: not only are different syntactic theories
represented but the articles also cover a wide range of issues, from
details such as particle preposing to general overviews, and methods. I
appreciated the general overview of the construction(s) in English and
Dutch and the papers criticizing a body of previously held assumptions;
the use of corpus data here is a welcome addition to the methodology. I
found that theoretical approaches, where the construction is more a
touch stone for syntactic theories than an object of intrinsic interest
worked the least well in a collection such as this one: the author can
describe his/her view on (part of) the specific construction but
doesn't have the space to show how it fits in the overall grammar of a
language. The result is that the proposals tend to look ad hoc. The
psycholinguistic papers give a glimpse of the intricate correspondences
between measurements, language processing and theories about storage of
lexical material in the brain. New methods such as ERP will most
likely shed light on this but it seems to me that they are still in the
process of being calibrated precisely.

I am looking forward to more discussion about what counts as a particle
and what can modify the different kinds, specially in Dutch because the
data and the discussion here seems to indicate that it is not clear
what types of modification are allowed and what the importance of their
distribution is. The ideas about construction-bound meaning as falling
between idiomatic and traditional compositional meaning are also worth
pursuing and it is heartening to see that corpus data are becoming a
tool in syntactic research on par with the traditional introspection.

As is usual these days, proofreading seems to have been left solely to
the responsibility of the different authors and some of them are better
than others. In Zeller's article, a couple of Dutch examples contain
misspellings: (3) should be: dat Jan zijn moeder wil opbellen, (6) dat
Jan de tapijten ti wil verkopen, (21) omdat hij mij ti probeert op te
bellen. To leave the proofreading to the authors also leads to typos
that they cannot be held responsible for, because they don't see the
end product. For instance somewhere (p.175) we find the string ??(ws)
in an example. One would assume that one of the four editors of this
book could have caught this.

Müller, S. (2000) Complex predicates: Verbal complexes, resultative
constructions, and particle verbs in German. CSLI.

Wurmbrand, Susi (2000) The Structure(s) of particle verbs, Ms.
University of Montreal.
Annie Zaenen is Principal Scientist at PARC and Consulting Professor at
Stanford University. Her main interests are syntax and linguistic
analysis for computational NLT.