rarity of preposition stranding

Angus B. Grieve-Smith grvsmth at panix.com
Mon Oct 4 02:03:35 UTC 2010

  On 10/2/2010 1:08 PM, Frederick J Newmeyer wrote:
> 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.
Here is my guess, and I'd love to hear what other people think: 
complexity of verb morphology.

It's not that the prepositions have become separable root morphemes, 
it's that they've been reanalyzed as potential verbal suffixes, or maybe 
enclitics. (At least in the early stages; it's only later that you get 
things like "I want to know where you go and who with.") This is a 
general schema formed on the basis of a number of high-frequency 
collocations like "talk-to" and "go-with."

In languages like Spanish, just in the present tense you have "hablo 
con" "hablas con," "hablamos con," (in historical data) "hablaís con," 
(in South America) "hablás con" and "hablan con." But in German you have 
only three: "sprache mit," "sprachst mit" and "sprachen mit." In English 
you just have "talk to" and "talks to," and in spoken colloquial French 
you also have two: /parlavɛk/ and /parleavɛk/. Each of these are more 
frequent than any of the 4-5 Spanish forms.

Brazilian Portuguese may be a problem for this explanation, since it has 
only three forms ("falo com," "fala com" and "falam com") and it is not 
showing any signs of stranding. Is the "falo com" form enough to dilute 
the frequency enough so that none of them is stored as a unit? Are the 
"a gente" and "você" forms too recent to permit this formation, and will 
we see stranding in another generation? Would we see a different story 
if we looked at all possible tenses and moods? I also don't know 
anything about the other languages where stranding has been attested (in 
the Scandinavian and Niger-Congo groups); if they have multiple verb 
forms it would not fit this generalization.

Again, this is just armchair speculation on my part. Is there a 
functional account of preposition stranding published anywhere?

				-Angus B. Grieve-Smith
				grvsmth at panix.com

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