rarity of preposition stranding

Daniel Everett dan at daneverett.org
Sat Oct 2 17:27:06 UTC 2010

I might add a bit of clarification. I understand what motivates Fritz's question. There is a scientific appeal to it. For example, it's possible that some solutions are easier and some are harder, so - one might ask - why are they harder? Or maybe it's just that some spread and some didn't. Or it's just that the failure of this or that one to spread is an accident.

If someone can come up with a convincing story, I will happily jump on the bandwagon.

But I don't find the question all that interesting relative to other things we might ask.

Here is a recent discussion I had on philosophy bites where I explain my evolving position.



On 2 Oct 2010, at 13:12, Daniel Everett wrote:

> One could approach the question, Fritz, from a different angle, i.e. why wouldn't English's pattern be rare? There are various things to accomplish and different peoples accomplish them in different ways. If you assume that the grammatical structure is basic, then, sure, we might wonder why it isn't found more places.
> But one could also ask why country music isn't found in Africa.
> Dan
> On 2 Oct 2010, at 13:08, Frederick J Newmeyer wrote:
>> Tom,
>> Even if you are right that it is correct to class together the phenomena that you call attention to, there is nothing that you wrote that begins to explain why the English/Scandinavian pattern ('Who did you talk to?') is so rare crosslinguistically. And that, after all, was my question. And nothing (I think) that explains why, despite its typological rarity and therefore possible 'nonfunctionality', English has steadily expanded its stranded preposition possibilities over the centuries, from topicalizations ('John, I would never talk to') to wh-questions ('Who did you talk to') to passives ('John was talked to').
>> Its fine, I suppose, if you want to expand the notion 'preposition stranding' to deal with words like 'intend' and 'whereof', but that does not move us forward on explaining the crosslinguistic rarity of the pattern:
>> question-word (did) subject V P?
>> Best,
>> --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]
>> On Fri, 1 Oct 2010, Tom Givon wrote:
>>> Au contraire, cher ami. There IS a very general mechanism of zeoing of 
>>> argument; in the 1960's terminology either by 'movement' or by 'deletion. In 
>>> the case of embedded REL-clauses, we tend to see it as 'deletion. In the case 
>>> of AGT-deletion passives, too, maybe. In the case of WH-questions, we call it 
>>> 'movement'. In the case of promotion to DO (as in Rwanda), maybe 'movement' 
>>> again. The common denominator is that the noun that carried the ad-position 
>>> is now missing from its 'normal' (high-frequency) position, and what shall we 
>>> do with the  poor beached-whale adposition? It carries vital information 
>>> about GRs or SR's, so we can just pitch it (we pitch the noun because of 
>>> predictability, but the adposition is less predictable).
>>> In the case of English WH-question, you go back to 18th Century written 
>>> English, you find preposition migrating to the WH-word. And this already 
>>> appears at the same period (& earlier) with REL-clause subordinators such as 
>>> 'whereof', 'whereas', 'whereat', 'wherefor', 'whereto', 'wherein' etc. Also, 
>>> incidentally, in non-embedded referring/anaphoric expressions such as 
>>> 'thereof', 'thereby', 'thereat', 'thereto', 'therein', 'therefor', etc. It is 
>>> fairly clear, further, that the use of the 'where-PREP' pattern in English 
>>> REL-clauses hitched a ride on the earlier use in WH-questions. Such 
>>> hitchiking, precisely in this direction, is extremely common, and has cropped 
>>> up later on in English again (in spoke German 'with /wo/, in Greek with 
>>> /pou/, in Kriop with /w(h)e(re)', in  spoken Hebrew, etc.) These are 
>>> extremely mundane facts, Matt, readily available, both in  old texts and in 
>>> the lit. (Bern Heine wrote about it in 2007 & 20089, inter alia). All it 
>>> takes is looking, and I suppose seeing. So just buy some old books & start 
>>> reading them. Sure, there's a lot of complexity in those pathways. But still, 
>>> with all this diversity, there are some clear central MECHANISMS of 
>>> emergence, not only a collection of surface patterns. After all, Fritz didn't 
>>> only ask if the patterns are rare (he, I think naively, assumed that). He 
>>> also wanted to know--or so I gave him credit for (stranded PREP again, 
>>> dammit!)--why. A collection of facts is decidedly not an answer to a WHY 
>>> question, but qat best the reason for asking it.  TG
>>> ==============
>>> Matthew S. Dryer wrote:
>>>> Not so fast, Tom.  It is certainly true in principle that one can often 
>>>> better
>>>> understand why a rare phenomenon is rare by getting a better understanding 
>>>> of
>>>> more common related phenomenon.  But I see nothing in your two emails that 
>>>> sheds
>>>> any light on why the English-type of adposition stranding is so rare or how 
>>>> any
>>>> of the literature on the related phenomena you discuss sheds any light on 
>>>> this
>>>> question.  Unless you can do that, I see no reason why it would be worth 
>>>> Fritz
>>>> looking at these related phenomena, to help answer his question.
>>>> Matthew
>>>> On Fri 10/01/10  5:40 PM , Tom Givon tgivon at uoregon.edu sent:
>>>>> Copy of note to Fritz:
>>>>> From where I sit, it is all connected, both synchronically (similar 
>>>>> pattern) and diachronically (patterns mutating into other patterns). There 
>>>>> are grammatical constructions that act as context for the original
>>>>> 'stranding'; then you have various next-steps, eventually to (in some 
>>>>> cases) full lexicalization (as in Latin or Germanic). So in Rama, the 
>>>>> exact same configuration as in IE exists, but it is a much earlier stage, 
>>>>> so I can see the early 'trapping' process a bit more clearly. In
>>>>> Latin & Old Gothic it's already too advanced, hard to see the variational 
>>>>> steps any longer, it is largely  already lexicalized. In Rama you can see 
>>>>> just the beginning of lexicalization, a few compound
>>>>> verbs.
>>>>> In Klamath or Numic you can see much more, a host of it, tho you can still 
>>>>> see the nominal or verbal etymology of the ad-positions. In Latin
>>>>> they LOOK like they should be de-verbal, as in Rama, but the etymology is 
>>>>> not quite as clean, too much time has pass. So you still have the verb 
>>>>> 'ex-it' on 'en-ter', but it's harder to find the verb 'con' or 'sur' or 
>>>>> 'per'; tho in Spanish 'sub-ir' is still a verb meaning 'go down/under'.
>>>>> But In Bantu the grammatical process is much more advanced that in Rama,
>>>>> it gotten into  REL clsauses, passives, and other derivatives from them.
>>>>> And there's a considerable amount of lexicalization, mostly in set-phrases 
>>>>> (typical early stage) such as 'excuse me', 'thank you' 'how
>>>>> are you' & more. In all these cases, you can see the role of 
>>>>> zero-arguments right there (missing AGT-of-passive, zero coreferent inside 
>>>>> the REL-clause. My las supervised African dissertation, a grammar
>>>>> of Lunda (Boniface Kawasha, ca. 2002, U. Oregon) has tons of that in 
>>>>> REL-clauses, it is like the promotion-to-DO in Rwanda (Kimenyi 1976), but 
>>>>> only in REL clauses, not main clauses. I flashed on this when I did
>>>>> my dissertation on Bemba (1969). Then, my supervisor, Paul Schachter, said 
>>>>> "you've got too much in it already, I don't want to read a whole
>>>>> grammar". So eventually I dumped two boxes of data. Sic transit.
>>>>> You gotta open up your classification schemata just a little bit, Fritz.
>>>>> Otherwise you'll keep missing the real goodies, where the explanations of 
>>>>> typological differences lie--usually in plain site.  TG
>>>>> ======================
>>>>> Angus B. Grieve-Smith wrote:
>>>>>> On Fri, October 1, 2010 12:16 pm, 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.>>         
>>>>>> In order to have preposition stranding, you need
>>>>> prepositions, right?  So> the only way we can answer the question of how
>>>>> rare languages with> preposition stranding are is by getting a rough
>>>>> sense of the proportion of> languages with prepositions they represent. 
>>>>> Mr.
>>>>> Givon mentioned a bunch> of languages with them, but is there a
>>>>> comprehensive list in some typology> text somewhere?
>>>>>> I also wanted a clarification from Mr. Newmeyer:
>>>>> your category of> preposition stranding includes (1) but not (2),
>>>>> right?>
>>>>>> 1) Who are you going with?
>>>>>> 2) Are you coming with?

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