question on Preferred Arg. Str.

John Dubois dubois at
Sun Oct 17 06:28:56 UTC 2004

In evaluating the 4 constraints of Preferred Argument Structure, it’s probably
best to consult the most recent literature, which has long since been extended
to numerous geographically and typologically diverse languages. The most
extensive source is Du Bois, Kumpf, and Ashby (2003), which presents in-depth
studies of Preferred Argument Structure in more than a dozen languages
(including Acehnese, English, Finnish, French, Inuktitut, Itzaj, Korean, Mam,
Mapudungun, Mocho, Nepali, Roviana, Spanish, Teco). Several genres, including
narrative, conversation, and others, are treated. The bibliography lists more
than 100 publications on Preferred Argument Structure research.

Regarding the specific issue of reducing the number of Preferred Argument
Structure constraints (e.g. from 4 to 2), this has long been an obvious and
tempting target for linguists, given our interest in economy. But there’s
evidence that the constraints cannot be collapsed. Probably the most extensive
statistical argumentation has been offered by Arnold (2003) for 
Mapudungun (see
reference below). She shows that the One Lexical Argument Constraint is not
reducible to the Avoid Lexical A Constraint, nor is it reducible to
accessibility effects. (Related arguments have been given by Goldberg 2004.)

As for ditransitives, Schuetze-Coburn showed already in 1987 that the 
profile for German ditransitives provides independent support for the 
of 4 distinct Preferred Argument Structure constraints. My own recent work on
ditransitives confirms this for English.

    -- Jack Du Bois


Arnold, Jennifer E. 2003. Multiple constraints on reference form: Null,
pronominal, and full reference in Mapudungun. In Preferred Argument Structure:
grammar as architecture for function, eds. John W. Du Bois, Lorraine E. Kumpf
and William J. Ashby, 225-245. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Goldberg, Adele E. 2004. Pragmatics and argument structure. In The handbook of
pragmatics, Quoting Martin Haspelmath <haspelmath at>:

Schuetze-Coburn, Stephan. 1987. Topic management and the lexicon: A discourse
profile of three-argument verbs in German. Linguistics Department, UCLA:
Unpublished M.A. thesis.

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