rarity of preposition stranding

Tom Givon tgivon at uoregon.edu
Fri Oct 1 17:53:39 UTC 2010


A conflation of typological features partially predicts which languages 
do or don't strand ad-positions on the verb (as well as on other 
constituents/words). These features predict various diachronic pathway, 
but the synchronic  endpoint products don't always look the same. 
Colette Craig/Grinevald (with Ken Hal;e) has a nice description of this 
in her Rama work. Like Romance & Germanic, Rama strands post-positions 
MASSIVELY on the verb, but at a prefixal  rather than suffixal point. 
The typological difference is transparent: Rama is ex-SOV with 
pre-verbal PPs. English is SVO with post-verbal PPs (see Givon 1971, CLS 
#7). In Romance & Germanic (both ex-SOV), the strnaded pre-positions are 
already so fused (old stuff) that a non-etymologists may not count them 
as "the real thing".

But--the diachronic process is remarkably similar: PPs undergo 
zero-anaphora of their core noun, for one of two major reasons: (a) 
generic predictability (antipassive); and (b) anaphoric predictability 
("traditional" "pro-drop" zero,). In Rama, Bonnie Tibbitts & I did the 
statistics (tho never published it), and the antipassive zero clearly 
showed up as the main driving force. I suspect Romance & Germanic data 
may have been the same, but they are so old and I'm not sure you can 
find texts going that far back to do the appropriate stats.

At any rate, In Indo-European this has been a MASSIVE process. Peter 
Hook showed similar stuff in Indic. Then of course it is massive in 
Bantu (SOV) at the grammatical level (fairly recent), and even  the 
lexical (extended later from the grammatical; lexicalized, if you will.) 
And I can show you massive stranding of post-positions on Ute verbs in  
both the suffixal AND prefixal positions (different generations, 
different mechanisms, and different word-types that absorb 
"second-position clitics").

Finally, there is some discussion of the mechanism in English (the 
interaction between unstressed pronouns, zero anaphora & stranded 
prepositions) in ch. 3 of my "Bio-Linguistics: The Santa Barbara 
Lectures" (Benjamins, 2002).

Best,  TG


Frederick J Newmeyer wrote:
> Dear Funknetters,
> Does anybody know of a functional explanation (published or not) for 
> why preposition stranding is so rare in the languages of the world? (I 
> am referring to constructions such as 'Who did you talk to?', 'Mary 
> was talked to', etc.) As far as I know, it exists only in Germanic, 
> marginally in French, and possibly in some Niger-Congo languages. 
> There are a number of functionally-oriented accounts of P-stranding in 
> English, but I wonder if anybody has taken on the question of its 
> rarity crosslinguistically.
> Thanks!
> --fritz
> Frederick J. Newmeyer
> Professor Emeritus, University of Washington
> Adjunct Professor, University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser 
> University
> [for my postal address, please contact me by e-mail]

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