German MIT

Paolo Ramat paoram at UNIPV.IT
Thu Dec 17 09:05:49 UTC 2009

Dear W. Schulze,
the same construction is possible in Italian:

Con lui abbiamo perso un amico (or also in lui abbiamo etc.:  in shows the same large polysemy  as con)
Con lei morì una buona amica (SUBJ)
Con lei  ho perso una buona amica (OBJ)

I would not accept the inversion 
?? abbiamo perso un amico con lui  (nor  in lui)

This seems to point at the topical function of the initial position -especially with [+human] referents. A sentence like
Con la ricerca sul campo è stato fatto il primo passo 
sounds rather odd or ambiguous (the meaning could also be 'via / thanks to the fieldwork the first step has been taken', along with 'regarding the fieldwork, the first step...') 


Prof. Paolo Ramat
Istituto Universitario di Studi Superiori (IUSS)
Responsabile della classe di Scienze Umane
V.le Lungo Ticino Sforza 56, 27100 Pavia – Italia
Tel. +39 0382 375811 Fax +39 0382 375899 

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Wolfgang Schulze 
  Sent: Thursday, December 17, 2009 9:00 AM
  Subject: German MIT

  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,


  Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Schulze                                                                     


  Primary contact:                                                                                                 

  Institut für Allgemeine & Typologische Sprachwissenschaft      

  Dept. II / F 13                                                                                                     

  Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München                                                       

  Ludwigstraße 25                                                                                 

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  D-80539 München                                                                                                                  

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  Email: W.Schulze at /// Wolfgang.Schulze at                                                         



  Second contact:                                                                                                                       

  Katedra Germanistiký                                                                                        

  Fakulta humanitných vied                                                                                  

  Univerzita Mateja Béla / Banská Bystrica                                     

  Tajovského 40                                                                                                                         

  SK-97401 Banská Bystrica                                                                                  

  Tel: (00421)-(0)48-4465108                                                           

  Fax: (00421)-(0)48-4465512                                                                              

  Email: Schulze at                                                                               



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