German MIT

Wolfgang Schulze W.Schulze at LRZ.UNI-MUENCHEN.DE
Thu Dec 17 08:00:58 UTC 2009


Dear friends,
during a lecture on German syntax, we came across the following problem: 
German makes use of a topic (?) construction that goes this way:

/*Mit ihm *haben wir ein-en Freund verloren.
/with  he:DAT have:PRES:1PL we INDEF-MASC:ACC friend lose:PPP

I have difficulties to translate this into good English (my fault, 
sorry!): The meaning of the /mit-/NP is not instrumental or comitative, 
but  'identifying' or 'explicative' ('in terms of', or so), that is 
(here:) the anaphor is correferential with /Freund /(a paraphrase would 
perhaps be: 'We have lost him in terms of ~ being ~ as a friend').  This 
pattern also works with names or (less obvious) with ordinary nouns, 
such as:

/*Mit Eva* haben wir eine Freundin verloren.
/'We have lost Eva in terms of a friend' (or so).

/*Mit der Feldforschung *ist der erste Schritt gemacht.
/'The first step has been taken in terms of fieldfwork' (or so).

This construction seems to be dependent from placing the/ mit-/NP into 
the preverbal topic field, compare:

/*Mit Paul *verließ uns ein Freund.
/Paul left us in terms of a friend (or so)'.

But (comitative reading):

/Ein Freund verließ uns *mit Paul*
/A friend left us (together) with Paul.'

Interestingly enough, the /mit-/construction at issue shows an ergative 
distribution (S=O;A): As a far as I can see, we can use this 
'identifying' strategy with NPs in S or O function only, but not in A 
function, compare:

/Mit ihr  starb/ [/eine gute Freundin/]:*S*
She died being a good friend (or so).
/
Mit ihr verlor ich/ [/eine gute Freund/]:*O*
I have lost a good friend in terms of her (or so).'

But not:

*/Mit ihm verlor/ [/der Mann/]:*A* /seine Ehre/.
 with he:DAT lose:PAST:3SG DEF:MASC:NOM Mann his-FEM:ACC honor

My question now is whether some of you know about analogous 
constructions in other languages, and, if yes, which strategies are 
applied (including a possible constraint regarding 
accusativity/ergativity) . In German, the pattern seems to based on the 
extreme polysemy of the preposition /mit/, covering (among many others) 
a true instrumental, a comitative, and some kind of 'equipment' 
function. This equipment function (that is a comitative-like function 
used with non-animates) seems to be a possible candidate for the 
development of the  above-mentioned 'explicative' pattern, even though 
it strongly favors animate NPs. I also have the impression that the 
referent in the /mit/-NP stands in a meronymic relation with the 
'correferential' expression in the second NP, but I'm not fully sure 
about that.

Finally, I would be happy if you know of a better and more precise term 
for the function at issue.

Many thanks in advance for sharing with me your expertise and best wishes,
Wolfgang


-- 

*Prof. Dr. Wolfgang 
Schulze    *                                                               
 

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<mailto:Wolfgang.Schulze at lmu.de>                                      
                   

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Katedra Germanistiký        
                                                                              
  

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<mailto:Schulze at fhv.umb.sk>                                                                             
 

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