14.381, Review: Syntax: De Kuthy (2002)

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LINGUIST List:  Vol-14-381. Thu Feb 6 2003. ISSN: 1068-4875.

Subject: 14.381, Review: Syntax: De Kuthy (2002)

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Date:  Thu, 06 Feb 2003 14:03:34 +0000
From:  oebel <oebel at cc.saga-u.ac.jp>
Subject:  Discontinuous NPs in German

-------------------------------- Message 1 -------------------------------

Date:  Thu, 06 Feb 2003 14:03:34 +0000
From:  oebel <oebel at cc.saga-u.ac.jp>
Subject:  Discontinuous NPs in German

De Kuthy, Kordula (2002) Discontinuous NPs in German: A Case Study of
the Interaction of Syntax, Semantics, and Pragmatics. CSLI
Publications, paperback ISBN 1-57586-398-7, x+196pp, Studies in
Constraint-Based Lexicalism.
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/13/13-1973.html

Guido Oebel, Saga National University (Japan)

The present book is Kordula De Kuthy's revised version of her
Ph.D. thesis at the University of the Saarland (Germany) completed in
November 2000.


The author investigates a particular word order phenomenon in German,
the occurrence of discontinuous Noun Phrases (NPs) in order to explore
the division of labour between the syntactic analysis and lexical as
well as discourse constraints on this construction referred to as
NP-PP (Noun Phrase-Prepositional Phrase) split construction. She
argues that many of the factors previously focusing mainly on
explaining syntactic restrictions on movement are in fact derivable
from discourse factors.

Following her brief and readily comprehensible introduction (1-3pp)
addressing not only a readership of native German speakers and/or
Germanistic linguists, in the first part of the book, De Kuthy
provides an overview of the empirical characteristics of NP-PP split
construction. Doing so, chapter 2: 'Basic Properties' (5-26pp)
illustrates the syntactic, semantic and pragmatic properties of the
construction while chapter 3: 'Other Partial NP Phenomena' (27-40pp)
is about comparing the NP-PP split construction to other phenomena
involving discontinuous NPs.

Founded on these empirical characteristics of the NP-PP split
construction, in part two De Kuthy investigates two key questions, one
concerned with the proper syntactic analysis of the construction, the
other with the integration of such a syntactic analysis with an
approach to the lexical and contextual factors involved.

Starting with the 'Syntactic Aspects' and its analysis of NP-PP split
construction in chapter 4: (41-92pp), De Kuthy reevaluates the
empirical basis of the choice between the two syntactic analysis ideas
proposed in the literature, extraction and reanalysis, thus providing
an explicit theory licensing reanalysis-like structures for NP-PP
split within the framework of Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar
(HPSG). Regarding the lexical-semantic effects observable for the
NP-PP split construction, in chapter 5: 'Semantic Aspects' (93-105pp)
she shows how an account based on the generative lexicon can be
integrated into her syntactic HPSG analysis. Finally, in order to find
an explanation for the context effects emerging with the construction,
in chapter 6: 'Pragmatic Aspects' (107-177pp), De Kuthy explores the
possible focus-background structures of NP-PP split constructions.

In the following, De Kuthy integrates the empirical findings from this
investigation of discourse requirements into her account of NP-PP
split by developing an information-structure component for her HPSG
fragment of German. Since this information structure component
accounts for some of the restrictions traditionally viewed as part of
syntax, according to the author, she wants her thesis to be
'understood as arguing for a more equal division of labor between
syntax theory and a theory of discourse, which has been unevenly
balanced as a result of the significant advances in syntactic
theorizing in the generative enterprise'.

In order to illustrate De Kuthy's focus of investigating the
occurrence of discontinuous NPs in German, i.e. NP- PP split
construction, in the following exemplary sentences from her book are
cited. Focusing on the contextual factors influencing the
grammaticality of the construction, the NP-PP split construction is
exemplified in (Sentence 1 in German - German 'Umlaut', i.e.  vowel
mutation , sentence 1.1 word-for-word translation into English,
sentence 1.2 English translation complying with grammatical and
syntactical rules of the target language) - reviewer's annotation: in
this review, German 'Umlaute', i.e.  vowel mutation, are given as
'ae', 'oe' and 'ue' in order not to misrepresent their display on
LinguistList-subscribers' screens):

(1)      Ueber Syntax hat Sarah sich (ein Buch) ausgeliehen.
(1.1)    About-syntax-has-Sarah-self-a-book-borrowed
(1.2)    Sarah borrowed a book on syntax.

This construction often referred to as so-called 'extraction of PPs
from NPs' for the PP-fronting 'ueber Syntax' in (1) is that the PP has
been extracted from the NP 'ein Buch' of which the PP is a dependent
specifying the topic of the book.

The reverse case, however, with NP-fronting is equally possible, as
illustrated in the following example:

(2)   (Ein Buch) hat Sarah sich ueber Syntax ausgeliehen.
(2.1) a-book-has-Sarah-herself-about-Syntax-borrowed
(2.2) Sarah borrowed a book about Syntax.

It has often been observed that grammatical examples of NP-PP split
become ungrammatical when the embedding verb (see sentences 1 and 2:
'ausleihen') is replaced by a verb (see sentences 3 and 4: 'klauen')
which has the same syntactic properties but a different semantics.

(3)  *Ueber Syntax hat Sarah (ein Buch) geklaut.
(3.1) about-syntax-has-Sarah-a-book-stolen
(3.2) Sarah stole a book about syntax.

(4)  *(Ein Buch) hat Sarah ueber Syntax geklaut.
(4.1) a-book-has-Sarah-about-syntax-stolen
(4.2) Sarah stole a book about syntax.

De Kuthy argues that given an appropriate context as in (5) sentences
like (3) and (4), interestingly, become much more acceptable.

(5)   Gestern wurde in der Bibliothek eine Anzahl von
      Linguistikb├╝chern geklaut. Vor allem Semantikb├╝cher
      verschwanden dabei. Ueber Syntax wurde jedoch (nur ein
      einziges Buch) gestohlen.
(5.1) yesterday-was-in-the-library-a-number-of-linguistics-books-
      stolen//mostly-semantics-books-disappeared-(?on that occasion -
      added by the reviewer!)//about-syntax-was-however- only-one-
(5.2) Yesterday, a number of linguistics books were stolen from
      the library. Mostly books on semantic disappeared. There was,
      however, only one book about syntax stolen.

To find an explanation for these context effects, De Kuthy examines
the possible focus-background structures of the construction observing
that separating a PP from an NP is only acceptable if not both the NP
and the PP are part of the same focus projection or the background of
a sentence. An important consequence of this observation is that some
of the supposed syntactic restrictions on the construction, such as
the Specificity Effect and the Specified Subject Condition, can
straightforwardly be explained as falling out of the discourse
restrictions for this construction. To integrate these observations
into the HPSG account of German, we De Kuthy develops an information
structure component in which the focus-background structure of signs
can be represented. This enables her to formulate a principle which
restricts the syntactic occurrence of NP-PP split constructions to
adequate focus-background structures.

Critical evaluation

This book represents a comprehensive investigation of the particular
word order phenomenon in German, the so-called NP-PP split
construction. In the first part of her book, De Kuthy explores the
empirical characteristics of the NP-PP split construction, actually as
a basis for its theoretical interpretation.  Concerning syntax, she
shows both elements of the construction the partial NP as well as the
split PP can freely occur independently of each other in the so-called
'Vorfeld' and in the 'Mittelfeld' whereas their occurrence in the
'Nachfeld' -- I wonder whether there is a proper English translation
for these specifically German technical terms? -- is subject to
several restrictions. Concerning the syntactic and semantic function
of the partial NP and the split PP, the author proves that only PP
adjuncts modifying the noun may occur separately from the NP.
Simultaneously, PP arguments can never be separated from their nominal
head as they occur with deverbal nouns. On the lexical-semantic and
pragmatic side, according to De Kuthy, splitting a PP from an NP
appears possible only in certain verb-noun combinations. Provided an
appropriate context, even cases so far regarded ungrammatical thus
become acceptable. At the end of the introducing part of the book, De
Kuthy delivers criteria for distinguishing the NP-PP split
construction from apparently similar phenomena such as secondary
predication, NP split, etc.

In the second part of the book, De Kuthy discusses theoretical
investigations of the NP-PP split construction along with two
established syntactic approaches proposed for the construction in the
literature, extraction and reanalysis. In my opinion, she succeeds in
questioning the empirical arguments for preferring extraction, thus
concluding that certain word order phenomena support a reanalysis
approach to the construction. She even proves capable of formalizing a
reanalysis-like theory in the HPSG-paradigm using the
dependent-raising mechanism - undisputedly the most valuable
contribution within her thesis along with her formulating a principle
restricting the syntactic occurrence of NP-PP split constructions to
adequate focus-background structures.

My general impression of De Kuthy's book is a thoroughly positive one!
Of course, this revised version of her thesis can be absolutely
regarded a comprehensive investigation of the word order phenomenon
NP-PP split construction, particularly occurring in
German. Furthermore, I consider it a valuable contribution to the
general question of how and to what extent the factors influencing
word order phenomena are to be localized syntactically, semantically
or pragmatically and how they interact with each other. Despite my
high regard I can't avoid mentioning some few but only slight 'drops
of bitterness' (in German: 'Wermutstropfen') regarding misspellings
and omissions, respectively, I came across:

(24) c. *Nach exotischen Geruechen konnte (sic!) selbst
        (ausgefallene Wuensche) befriedigt werden.
(43) b. Von Peter habe ich bislangen (sic!) nur (den Vater)
(213) Karls (sic!) has given the book to the child.
(219) What did none of (sic!) do?

It is just deplorable that these avoidable slips of the pen have even
been carried over to the revised version.

Then there are some borderline cases I detected while reading and
examining most of de Kuthy's exemplary sentences. The reason why I
consider the following sentences at least doubtful might be founded on
my subtle feeling of language ('Sprachgefuehl') as a native speaker of
German rather than on facts. At any rate, I am far from intending to
do her wrong, maybe the reason for my doubts stems from my own lack of
understanding, at least with regard to this specific topic. Anyhow, I
would appreciate if my remarks get a further discussion on the
grammaticality and/or acceptability of the following sentences going:

(40) a. *Von Maria bewundere ich die Schoenheit.
         of Maria-admire-I-the-beauty
         I admire Maria's beauty.

Reviewer's proposed German sentence of improvement: 'An Maria
bewundere ich die Schoenheit. 'Why not simply exchanging the German
preposition 'von' for 'an' and the sentence becomes perfectly
acceptable for native speakers?

(170) a. ?? Hans las (ein Buch ueber ihn).
            Hans read a book about himself.

Reviewer's proposed English sentence of improvement: 'Hans read a book
about him.' - in this case 'him' being a third person apart from
Hans otherwise the source sentence should read: 'Hans las ein Buch
ueber sich' in order to match the English translation 'himself'.

(173) a. Hans schenkte mir ein Buch von sich.
         Hans gave me a book of him as a present.

Reviewer's proposed English sentence of improvement: 'Hans gave me a
book of his as a present. '

(299) Ich habe mir das Buch ueber Syntax gekauft, das du mir
      letztlich empfohlen hast.
      I bought the book about syntax that you recently recommended to me.

Reviewer's proposed German sentence of improvement: 'Ich habe mir das
Buch ueber Syntax gekauft, das du mir letztens empfohlen hast. ' (the
German 'letztlich' is in English 'in the end' and unfortunately not
corresponding to 'letztens' as suggested by 'recently')

(302) b. *Von Marga habe ich (das Buch) gekauft.

Reviewer's proposed German sentence of improvement: 'I bought the book
from Marga' with Marga as the seller of the book rather than its

Lastly, may I suggest considering a list of abbreviations which are
used throughout the thesis just in case further editions of the book
should be printed so that apart from experts in linguistics even less
experienced readers might find easier access to this book worth

References (online):


References (print):

De Kuthy, Kordula: Splitting PPs from NPs. In Walt Detmar Meurers and
Tibor Kiss (eds.): Constraint-based Approaches to Germanic Syntax,
Stanford: CSLI Publications.


Guido Oebel (PhD in linguistics) is a native German currently teaching
German as A Foreign Language (DaF) and FLL at Saga National University
and Kurume University both on the Southern island of Kyushu
(Japan). His main areas of research are: DaF, sociolinguistics,
bilinguism, adult education and autonomous learning and approaches,
particularly 'Learning by Teaching' (LdL).


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