German MIT

Marina Chumakina M.Tchoumakina at SURREY.AC.UK
Thu Dec 17 10:37:15 UTC 2009

I would say Russian  “v nem my poterjali...” (in him we lost) is extremely rare, much more frequent is highly idiomatic “v ego lice my poterjali” (in his face we lost...)

If Google is anything to go by: 

в нем мы потеряли (v nem my poterjali...) – 6 times 

в его лице мы потеряли (v ego lice my poterjali...)  – 16,600 times. 



-----Original Message-----
From: Discussion List for ALT [mailto:LINGTYP at LISTSERV.LINGUISTLIST.ORG] On Behalf Of Wolfgang Schulze
Sent: Thursday, December 17, 2009 8:01 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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Fax:  0049-(0)89-2180-16567 // 0049-(0)89-2180-5345                                                                              

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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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