rarity of preposition stranding

Frederick J Newmeyer fjn at u.washington.edu
Fri Oct 1 18:42:13 UTC 2010

Thanks, Tom,

I'll check out the references that you cite, but your posting has me a bit confused. It is not clear to me from what you wrote why P-stranding is so rare. Or are you saying that it is not rare? Are you tying the rise of P-stranding to the shift from SOV to SVO? If so, it should be much more common than it is in Indo-European and in other languages that have undergone the same word order change. But in modern SVO Indo-European languages, it occurs only in Germanic and with one or two prepositions in French. So I'm not sure what you mean when you write that stranding occurs MASSIVELY in Romance and Germanic (and in I-E in general). Surely that is not true. Where is there stranding in Romance at all outside of French? In general in Romance, the preposition and its object have to be fronted together.

Furthermore, we had stranding in some environments in Old English (eg with topicalization), even though that language was still SOV. As English developed, there arose more and more stranding environments (eg with wh-movement and passive). I'm not sure why this extension of P-stranding would follow from what you wrote about word order change. But in German, I believe that the exact opposite happened. Even though German is 'less SOV/more SVO' than it was 1000 years ago, stranding has basically disappeared.



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]

On Fri, 1 Oct 2010, Tom Givon wrote:

> 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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