24.482, Review: Morphology; Semantics; Syntax: Felfe (2012)

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LINGUIST List: Vol-24-482. Sun Jan 27 2013. ISSN: 1069 - 4875.

Subject: 24.482, Review: Morphology; Semantics; Syntax: Felfe (2012)

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Date: Sun, 27 Jan 2013 21:53:18
From: Stefano Quaglia [stefano.quaglia at uni-konstanz.de]
Subject: Das System der Partikelverben mit ''an'' [The System of Particle Verbs with ''an'' in German]

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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-3304.html

AUTHOR: Marc  Felfe
TITLE: Das System der Partikelverben mit "an" [The System of Particle Verbs with "an" in German]
SUBTITLE: Eine konstruktionsgrammatische Untersuchung
SERIES TITLE: De Gruyter Sprache und Wissen 12
PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton
YEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Stefano Quaglia, Universität Konstanz


This book is a revised version of Marc Felfe's (henceforth, MF) PhD
dissertation. The main subject of the study is German Particle Verb
Constructions (PVCs) with the particle ‘an’.  The core meaning of the
homophonous (and related) preposition ‘an’ is a contact relation between a
Figure and the external region of a Ground (Stiebels 1996:89). The author
claims that standard compositional analyses - starting out from the assumption
of a minimal argument-structure for verb and particle - can predict
approximately fifty percent of the overall transparent form-meaning pairs
exhibited by PVCs with ‘an’. Such analyses would be then forced to assume
further machinery and operations affecting argument structures. MF argues
instead for a holistic approach, modeled in the framework of Construction
Grammar (CG): the PVCs under scrutiny are claimed to result from the fusion of
abstract argument-structure constructions and verb-classes.

Chapter 1 (“Einführung” [Introduction]) starts out with the observation that
often one and the same verb can be used to build syntactically and
semantically different PVCs with ‘an’. An example is given for the verb
‘tanzen’ [to dance], which appears in (at least) five PVCs. Two additional
remarks follow: for one, although the presented constructions do not
correspond to the primary, canonical uses of ‘tanzen’, speakers of German have
no problems in interpreting them correctly. For another, if other verbs are
used with the same constructions, the resulting event-types do not change.
These premises enable the author to list the main research questions of the
study: what licenses the combination of verb (classes) and ‘an’? How can the
meaning contribution of each component be captured? What should a
compositional analysis of the PVCs at stake look like? After a sketch of the
analysis to be proposed, the structure of the book is presented to the reader,
and the analysis of different corpora is described as the main empirical basis
of the work (in line with the usage-based approach of CG).

Chapter 2 (“Eigenschaften von PVK” [Properties of PVCs]) illustrates the
behavior of German PVCs with respect to word order (adjacency vs. separation
of verb and particle; fronting of the particle), syntactic and semantic
autonomy of its components ((im)possibility for the particle to appear in
isolation and/or to be modified), and lexicalization and argument-structure
changes. The author provides a brief survey of morphological and syntactic
generative analyses of German PVCs, and shows that neither can do justice of
all the properties listed above. MF claims that a crucial error of both
approaches lies in the assumption of a strict modularity of the grammar, and
thus prepares the ground for an analysis where no sharp boundaries are put
between lexicon and syntax.

In Chapter 3 (“Kompositionalität” [Compositionality]), MF brings arguments
against approaches that assume argument-structure-altering processes
(functional composition, argument extension) as a central machinery for
explaining the licensing of spatial particles and additional argument slots.
For example, instead of deriving one argument structure from the other (e.g.
by applicativization), the author argues for the existence of two separate
argument-structure constructions, encoding different event-types. The analysis
is then presented to the reader: PVCs with ‘an’ result from the fusion of
argument constructions (form-meaning pairings consisting of argumental
XP-slots and underspecified event structures) and verb classes. The fusion
occurs via conventionalized semantic and pragmatic implicatures.

Chapter 4 (“Was bedeutet Konstruktionsgrammatik?” [What does Construction
Grammar mean?]) introduces basic assumptions of CG. Different theoretical
approaches situated within CG are compared with respect to issues like the
nature of grammar, formalization, and predictive power. MF then presents the
definition of 'construction' he adopts, and discusses varying parameters like
formal complexity, generality, compositionality, and productivity.

Chapter 5 (“Verblexeme” [Verbal lexemes]) focuses on frame semantics,
presented as an alternative to a sharp separation between linguistic and
conceptual information associated with lexemes. Both cognitive premises and a
detailed introduction to frame semantics are offered to the reader. As a
further clarification, a frame is proposed for the German verb ‘tanzen’ [to
dance]. A sample of the most frequent syntactic contexts where this verb
occurs is then brought as an example of the syntactic filling of different
frame slots.

In Chapter 6 (“Argumentkonstruktionen mit ‘an’” [Argument Constructions with
‘an’]), MF explains how argument constructions work. Syntactically identical
PVCs with ‘an’ can be either homonymous instances of (semantically) different
argument constructions, or polysemous instantiations of the same construction
(via metonymy or metaphor). The author claims that many 'minimal pairs' of
PVCs - traditionally analyzed as alternative realizations of one and the same
argument structure - do not actually stand in relation to each other. In a
second part, possible representation formats for form and meaning of argument
constructions are critically discussed. MF opts for a formal side with
case-marked XP-slots and a semantic side containing variables and a schematic
characterization of the event-type.

Chapter 7 (“Einzelne Argumentkonstruktionen mit ‘an’” [Single Argument
Constructions with ‘an’]) is, together with the following two chapters, the
core of MF's analysis. Eight argument construction groups are presented to the
reader (names, examples and translations follow):

(a) Change of Place and State: ‘NPnom NPacc an-kleben’ [to glue, to paste NP]
(b) Startup: ‘NPnom NPacc an-schalten’ [to switch NP on]
(c) State of contact: ‘NPnom an-grenzen’ [to abut, to border]
(d) Intensification: ‘NPnom an-steigen’ [to increase]
(e) Directionality: ‘NPnom NPacc an-lächeln’ [to smile at NP]
(f) Force vs. Counterforce: ‘NPnom gegen NPacc an-kämpfen’ [to fight against
(g) Partiality: ‘NPnom NPacc an-lesen’ [to read NP not until the end]
(h) Perception: ‘NPnom NPdat NPacc an-merken’ [to notice NP on NP] 
Each group comprises different but related argument constructions, which show
varying degrees of productivity. Besides a detailed description and discussion
of every construction, four digressions focus on issues pertaining to single
groups (medial PVCs, lexicalization of the particle, problems in individuating
instances of a given construction, and the function of ‘an’ as
construction-specific marker).

Chapter 8 (“Das System der Partikelverben mit ‘an’” [The system of Particle
Verbs with ‘an’]) provides a deeper scrutiny of how the eight main groups, the
argument constructions belonging to each one, and finally the instances of
these (i.e., the actual PVCs) stay in a relation to each other, from both a
quantitative and a qualitative point of view. In the first part, quantitative
results regarding the type-frequency are presented (by means of figures and
charts) and discussed; in the second part, the author introduces the concept
of 'inheritance link', which offers a way of formalizing hierarchical
relations among constructions, between constructions and their instances, and
even between more and less general instances.

Chapter 9 (“Fusion und Gebrauch” [Fusion and Usage]) addresses the issue of
the integration of argument constructions and verb classes. After a digression
on the great productivity of PVCs in German(ic), the author considers single
argument constructions with respect to the verbs they can appear with. The
fusion of constructions and verb classes obtains via usage-driven
'fusion-routines' (regulated by conventionalized implicatures), paradigmatic
forms and contrast with other constructions. Argument constructions can either
profile slots already contained in a verb frame, or can contribute arguments
on their own.

In Chapter 10 (“Ein- und Ausblick” [Overview and Outlook]), MF recapitulates
both issues and findings. He then points out additional desiderata for future
research and proposes two practical applications of the study. An appendix
follows, where all the PVCs taken into consideration are divided according to
the argument constructions they belong to.


MF's investigation can be of interest to both the theoretically and the
empirically oriented linguist. On the one hand, it addresses problems
regarding the argument structure of particle verbs that have been (and still
are) matters of theoretical debate (cf. McIntyre (2007), Roßdeutscher (2012),
Svenonius (2003), Stiebels (1996)). On the other hand, the detailed
classification of the data presents challenges for the implementation of
computational resources (cf. also Springorum et al. (2012)). Moreover,
attention is paid to old vocabularies and lexicons, which completes the
synchronic corpus-based investigation with insights on the historical
development of single PVCs. This makes the study profitable reading also for
language historians. Since the book is written in German, however, it is
accessible first and foremost to Germanists. This is an undesirable
limitation, for the author's constructionist analysis features non-standard
solutions that could stimulate an interesting discussion within the world-wide
CG community. Therefore, the reviewer thinks that an additional, smaller
publication in English would be useful for a better circulation of MF's work.

Besides giving a detailed classification of the PVCs at stake, the author
undertakes an accurate scrutiny of the data in terms of degrees of
productivity. The reader can thus acquire information about which argument
constructions are fully productive, which ones are semi-productive, which ones
build a niche, and which ones have been fully lexicalized. This is often a
neglected topic in works (especially theoretical ones) dealing with German(ic)
particles. Moreover, the constructionist analysis defended by MF fits the data
nicely. As regards argument constructions encoding Directionality, for example
(‘NPacc an-lächeln’ [to smile at NP]), both a typical pragmatic value (actions
connoted as 'negative') and contrast formation are claimed to be crucial
factors motivating productivity. The first factor explains occasional use of
nouns and adjectives as bases for 'an-verbs' (e.g. ‘NPacc an-kröten’ [to call
NP a toad] < N ‘Kröte’ [toad; contemptible person]): as MF points out, there
seem to exist no denominal or de-adjectival formations exempt from this
negative value.  On the other hand, the entailment of 'partial affectedness'
common to many 'an-verbs' of this class emerges as a result of a systematic
contrast to verbs with the prefix ‘be-’, which denote 'totally affecting'
actions (e.g. ‘NPacc an-grabschen’ [to grab NP] vs. ‘NPacc begrabschen’ [to
paw NP]). In sum, this study confronts scholars of different theoretical
persuasions with one important issue: how to incorporate a sustainable
explanation of varying degrees of productivity in a given analysis of particle
verbs (a contribution in this direction is Roßdeutscher (2012)).

A quite strong claim of this work is that there are hardly any semantic or
structural restrictions on the usage of PVCs with ‘an’. The combination of
verbs and argument constructions is governed by semantic and pragmatic
implicatures, but these are not interpreted as constraints on possible PVCs.
Rather, they allow for 'prototypical predictions' on expectable vs.
unexpectable ones. This conclusion is supported by a case-study on the verb
‘schlafen’ [to sleep]. Although this verb does not belong to any verb class
that normally combines with ‘an’, it can occasionally occur in some of the
argument constructions listed in (1), yielding fully transparent structures.
It is up to future research to falsify or confirm the author's thesis. If it
turned out to be tenable, then the question to raise would be what exactly
licenses this absence of constraints.

The book offers a different view of PVC-pairs like ‘Farbe (an die Wand)
an-streichen’ [to spread varnish (on a wall)] vs. ‘die Wand (mit Farbe)
an-streichen’ [to cover a wall (with varnish)]. Such pairs are usually
analyzed as alternants where the particle ‘an’ licenses either a Figure or a
Ground. From both a semantic and a syntactic point of view, the phenomenon
bears similarity to the familiar 'spray/load'-alternation (cf. Stiebels
(1996:105-6)). What MF argues for, on the contrary, is that the two structures
appearing in the alleged ‘an-streichen’-alternation instantiate different
argument constructions. The first one is an instance of Change of Place/State
in (1a), the second one corresponds to the construction encoding
Directionality in (1e). According to the author, then, no 'Ground-Promotion'
(cf. McIntyre (2007)) obtains here. Real 'promotion'-phenomena do exist, but
they are always licensed by a metonymy relation between the referents of two
arguments. An example is ‘Erde an-schütten’ [to bank up earth] vs. ‘einen Damm
an-schütten’ [to build up a bank], where there is a causal contiguity
relation. The hypothesis that metonymy is what really triggers 'promotion' is
interesting, and it would be worth testing with respect to other German PVCs
where similar phenomena can be found (e.g. particle verbs with ‘aus’ [out],
cf. McIntyre (2001: 275-9)).

In addition to the previous issues, German PVCs with ‘an’ also present
difficulties in identifying the precise aspectual contribution supplied by the
particle. In particular, this is the case for the argument constructions in
(1e) (Directionality) and in (1g) (Partiality) (cf. Stiebels (1996: 162-5;
78-82)). With respect to PVCs encoding Directionality, the author convincingly
argues that - at least in some cases - they can be characterized as
unspecified for perfectivity (attained vs. unattained result). The
construction encoding Partiality is discussed in detail, too (e.g. pp. 30-31;
156-9; 218-223). MF challenges the common assumption that ‘an’ here does not
affect the argument structure of the verb, bringing examples where a
(qualitative or quantitative) change is indeed the case. The aspectual import
of this construction is extensively explained to the reader, but a precise
formalization is not provided. This would have been a welcome contribution,
since a formal description of this use of ‘an’ is hardly given in the
literature (Springorum (2011) being an exception).

This shortcoming aside, MF's study succeeds in providing insightful
observations that the literature on the topic still lacked. All central issues
about PVCs with ‘an’ are tackled, and the proposed analysis covers the whole
spectrum of meanings exhibited by the data. Although single aspects of the
account may be criticized by scholars working in different frameworks, the
overall picture appears to be complete and coherent. This makes this monograph
a model for future case-studies on single particles. In sum, I recommend this
book to all scholars interested in the investigation of German(ic) particle


McIntyre, Andrew. 2001. German Double Particles as Preverbs: Morphology and
Conceptual Semantics. Tübingen: Stauffenburg. (Studien zur deutschen Grammatik

McIntyre, Andrew. 2007. “Particle verbs and argument structure”, In Language
and Linguistics Compass 1(4):350-397.

Roßdeutscher, Antje. 2012. “Hidden quantification in prefix and particle
verbs”, in: Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung 16, MIT, (in press).

Springorum, Sylvia, Sabine Schulte im Walde and Antje Roßdeutscher. 2012.
“Automatic Classification of German an Particle Verbs” In: Proceedings of the
8th International Conference on Language Resources and Evaluation. Istanbul,
Turkey, May 2012.

Springorum, Sylvia. 2011. “Drt-based analysis of the German verb particle an”.
Leuvense Bijdragen 97.

Svenonius, Peter. 2003. “Limits on P: Filling in holes vs. falling in holes”
in Nordlyd 31.2: 431-445.

Stiebels, Barbara. 1996. Lexikalische Argumente und Adjunkte: zum semantischen
Beitrag verbaler Präfixe und Partikeln. Studia Grammatica 39. Berlin: Akademie


Stefano Quaglia is a Ph.D. student at the Department of Linguistics,
University of Konstanz. His research interests include Italian and Germanic
particle verbs, the syntax and semantics of adpositional elements, and their
interaction with the argument structure of verbs.

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