question on Preferred Arg. Str.

Mira Ariel mariel at
Wed Oct 13 15:36:53 UTC 2004

Dear Martin and Funknetters,

Goldberg 2004 (in Horn and Ward eds) addresses some of these very questions,
and decides that both the quantity and the Given A constraints are needed.
The following is similar, but not identical to her replies.

1. "Avoid more than one lexical core argument" (there was a typo in Martin's
(i)): Needed independently, because of:

(a) Ditransitives. It's not necessarily the case that if A is nonlexical
there won't be 2 other core lexical arguments.

(b) If there's an additional quantity constraint (additional to "avoid
lexical As"), then when you get lexical A and lexical O you have two
violations. When you only get lexical A (with a nonlexical O) you only have
one violation. One can check whether the cases with two violations are
rarer, for example. In Sakapultek (Du Bois 2003 in Du Bois et al eds) there
are indeed no 2 new arguments, but there are some new As (6%). See also
Goldberg 2004.

2. The identification between "new" and "lexical". I beg to differ. The two
are NOT interchangeable. Some Given entities may be lexical (and marginally,
the opposite is also true). The restriction should be phrased pragmatically
rather than formally. In other words, one should avoid low accessibility
entities (2 of them, and specifically in A position). Indeed, note how the
numbers for New As are smaller than for lexical As (Cf. Du Bois 2003 Table 3
with Table 5). In fact, since Du Bois motivates these constraints by
reference to processing demands, degree of mental accessibility seems the
proper constraint. So I would consider doing away with (i) and (ii) and
keeping (iii) and (iv).

3. Getting rid of "Avoid new As": It's true that agents are human and
topical in many cases, but not in the percentages that PAS findings show. Of
course the correlations you point to are relevant. This must have motivated
the choice of As for Given entities and O for potentially new entities in
the first place. But then, there's Ss too! Their profile is similar to that
of As in terms of humanness and topicality. If so, why do they split off
from As (in allowing new entities)?  See Goldberg 2004.



----- Original Message -----
From: "Martin Haspelmath" <haspelmath at>
To: <funknet at>
Sent: Tuesday, October 12, 2004 16:43
Subject: [FUNKNET] question on Preferred Arg. Str.

> I have a question about Du Bois's Preferred Argument Structure. I have
> read some of the relevant literature, and I wonder why he states this as
> FOUR different "constraints", i.e. four different observations about
> statistical tendencies in discourse:
> (i) Avoid more than two lexical core arguments ("One Lexical Argument
> Constraint")
> (ii) Avoid lexical A-argument ("Non-lexical A constraint")
> (iii) Avoid more than two new core arguments ("One New Argument
> (iv) Avoid new A-argument ("Given A constraint")
> It seems to me that the first and third constraints follow
> straightforwardly from the second and fourth, respectively: If the
> A-argument is not lexical/new, there cannot be two lexical/new core
> arguments, because every clause has at most two core arguments by
> definition. Why do we need (i) and (iii) as independent constraints?
> Also, it appears that (ii) follows from (iv) and the well-known strong
> correlation between given status and non-lexical (pronominal, zero)
> expression. Finally, (iv) would seem to follow from the strong tendency
> for A-arguments to be human, and the strong tendency for human arguments
> to be topical.
> So the Preferred Argument Structure constraints seem to be completely
> predictable consequences of well-known statistical tendencies in
> discourse. Or is there an error in my reasoning? Is there perhaps any
> independent evidence that the constraints are (partially) independent of
> each other?
> I don't mean to say that the constraints are uninteresting because they
> are predictable, I just wonder why the literature doesn't seem to
> mention this predictability.
> Thanks a lot,
> Martin
>  +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
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>  at the Tel-Aviv University CC.

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