LINGUIST List 16.2055|
Sat Jul 02 2005
Review: Syntax: Mukherjee (2005)
Editor for this issue: Naomi Ogasawara
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English Ditransitive Verbs
Message 1: English Ditransitive Verbs
From: Nicole Dehé <nicoleling.ucl.ac.uk>
Subject: English Ditransitive Verbs
AUTHOR: Mukherjee, Joybrato
TITLE: English Ditransitive Verbs
SUBTITLE: Aspects of Theory, Description and a Usage-based Model
SERIES: Language and Computers Vol. 53
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/15/15-3421.html
Nicole Dehé, Department of Phonetics and Linguistics,
University College London
Joybrato Mukherjee's book provides an addition to the literature on
ditransitive verbs in English. Based on real language corpus data, the
study offers a meticulous description of the usage of six ditransitive
verbs in particular (give, tell, send, show, ask, offer). The descriptive
analysis is embedded in a pluralist theory developed on the basis of
previous accounts to ditransitive verbs put forward in various
frameworks and it leads to the development of a usage-based model
of ditransitive verbs combining a general cognitive-linguistic framework
with specific corpus-linguistic considerations.
The book is divided into five well-organised chapters plus a short
appendix providing details on the design of the corpus used in the
EVALUATION BY CHAPTER
Chapter 1 is intended to give an overview and critical review of
different existing frameworks in various traditions used for the
description and analysis of ditransitivity and their different
perspectives, among them descriptive grammar, generative grammar,
valency theory, functional grammar and semantico-syntactical
approaches, corpus-based grammar including some previous corpus-
based research into ditransitive verbs, corpus-driven lexicogrammar,
construction grammar and cognitive sciences. Based on this overview,
a pluralist theory of ditransitivity is developed from those aspects of
the frameworks discussed that "can be conceptually integrated with
each other" (p. 63).
Moreover, a working definition of ditransitive verbs is provided.
According to this definition, ditransitive verbs are trivalent verbs which
require a subject, a direct object and an indirect object. The pattern
where both objects appear as noun phrases (as in 'Peter gave Mary a
book') is referred to as the "basic" or "explicit" ditransitive syntax. In
what follows, all (and only) verbs that meet this definition, i.e. which
are attested in the basic pattern at least once in the data set, are
considered ditransitives in the basic as well as all other forms of
At this point, a remark concerning the sections on previous literature
seems in order. Despite providing a useful overview in general, it is
striking that while all other approaches are dealt with in a neutral and
objective way, the section on generative grammar reads more like a
misplaced attack on the generative framework in general than a
critical and fair discussion of approaches to ditransitives suggested
within that framework. Traces of this attack can be found throughout
the book. While it might be true that it is quite a challenge to reconcile
the generative framework (used here synonymously with "Minimalist
Program") with a usage-based model as suggested in the present
study, a more objective discussion would have been more fruitful.
Some inaccuracies in the outline of the theory contribute to this
impression (e.g. on p. 17 it is claimed that "the object [...] is a
projection of the verb", and on pp. 20/21 the same construction, V NP
NP, is represented by two different syntactic structures for no
Chapter 2 is intended to outline the methodology used in the present
study which is described as a "corpus-to-cognition approach". Section
2.1 sketches the corpus-based approach to ditransitivity as one where
previous research results and experience- and intuition-based
hypothetical models are applied to actual performance data, leading to
models (of ditransitivity) in language use and language cognition, and
in turn to the verification or falsification of the initial hypotheses (cf.
Fig. 2-1, p. 71). The author distances himself and his work from the
tradition of "corpus-driven" linguistics in which the starting point for
any linguistic theory is the corpus itself and he rejects the
corresponding framework as "unrealistic" and "implausible" (p. 72).
In Section 2.2, the relevant corpora and corresponding software tools
are being presented. The main corpus used, introduced in some detail
together with a review of general advantages and downsides for the
present study, is the International Corpus of English - The British
Component (ICE-GB) along with the ICE Corpus Utility Program
(ICECUP; cf. also the corpus webpage at
< www.ucl.ac.uk/english-usage/ice-gb/index.htm > and Nelson et al. 2002).
From this corpus, a list of all verbs that meet the working definition of
ditransitivity as suggested in Chapter 1 was automatically derived. This list
includes 70 verbs of varying frequency, adding up to 1741 occurrences of
verbs parsed as ditransitive in ICE-GB. Particularly frequent are the
verbs ASK (91 occurrences), GIVE (562), OFFER (54), SEND (79),
SHOW (84) and TELL (491). The corpus was then manually searched
for these ditransitive verbs in other complementation patterns.
Based on the overall frequency of each ditransitive verb in the corpus
and on the frequency with which each ditransitive verb occurs in the
basic ditransitive pattern (both obtainable from ICECUP, Table 2-5 on
p. 84), the author distinguishes three groups of ditransitive verbs.
Firstly, "typical ditransitive verbs" are frequent in general and in
explicit ditransitive syntax. These criteria are met by GIVE and TELL.
The second group is that of "habitual ditransitive verbs" which are
fairly frequent in general but not in explicit ditransitive syntax,
specifically ASK, SEND, SHOW and OFFER. The third group is made
up of "peripheral ditransitive verbs" which are rare in general and/or in
explicit ditransitive syntax. Along with ICE-GB, the British National
Corpus (BNC, 2nd version), was used as "ancillary corpus" for the
description of ditransitive verbs that were peripheral in ICE-GB.
Section 2.3 deals with the corpus-based description of language use.
According to the present study, a model of language use is
a "supraindividual abstraction" of what is frequent and/or normal in a
given speech community. The author underlines that this does not
equal performance, since performance data (of which a corpus is
representative) includes all kinds of errors, unacceptable language
use, etc. The remainder of the chapter emphasizes the main chores of
the usage-based model to be developed on the basis of the corpus
data: (i) to account for the fundamental importance of the actual
frequencies of linguistic forms; (ii) to explain linguistic routines and
patterns; (iii) to take into account the role of functional and context-
dependent principles and factors; (iv) to keep in mind the
interdependence of lexical and grammatical choices.
In Chapter 3, the author provides a detailed corpus-based description
as well as quantitative and qualitative analysis of individual ditransitive
verbs in actual language use. He addresses the three distinct groups
of verbs identified in Chapter 2 in turn (Section 3.1: typical ditransitive
verbs: GIVE and TELL; Section 3.2: habitual ditransitive verbs: SEND,
SHOW, ASK, OFFER; Section 3.3: peripheral ditransitive verbs).
These verbs occur in various syntactic pattern meticulously described
in this chapter. Among these patterns are the basic ditransitive pattern
("Peter gave Mary a book"; here: pattern I), the prepositional pattern
("Peter gave the book to Mary"; here: pattern II), a mono-transitive
pattern realizing the direct object ("Peter gave an example"; here:
pattern III), an intransitive pattern ("Peter always gives"; here: pattern
IV), a mono-transitive pattern realizing the indirect object ("Peter told
him"; here: pattern V), and variations of these patterns derived by
syntactic operations involving the direct and/or indirect object, such as
passivisation, fronting in relative clauses and embedded questions,
among others. For each verb considered here, a default pattern is
identified mostly on quantitative grounds, but also on the basis of
underlying semantics (in the case of ASK) and discourse patterns (in
the case of TELL). The default patterns vary across items, except that
the default for the habitual verbs SHOW, SEND and OFFER is pattern
Special emphasis is placed on the identification of factors causing the
speaker to choose a specific pattern over other possible patterns.
Among these factors are the explicitation and linear arrangement of
semantic roles, textual factors, lexical constraints, heaviness of
constituents, and pragmatic factors such as end-focus.
In some cases it seems as if the author has to bend his own rules,
which occasionally leads to contradictory assumptions. To give but
one example: as argued in the present study (as well as much
previous work) one of the factors contributing to the choice of
construction is (final) focus. Now consider the examples below.
- (ex. 279, p. 159): In the other universities abroad the students are
shown to have more life within them. (ICE-GB:W1A-018 #74)
- (ex. 407, p. 196): Since the Theatre is a Department of University
College London we only offer this casual work to students.
For the example in (279), Mukherjee (p. 159) argues that the indirect
object "the students" is passivised because "the students are evoked
by universities" in the immediately preceding context. However, for the
example in (407), he argues (p. 196f.) that "students" represents new
information and is therefore structurally realised in end-position,
triggering the prepositional pattern. In my view, it remains unclear from
the two examples given here, why "universities" in (279), but
not "University College" in (407) evokes "students". Moreover, in many
cases the argumentations as to why one pattern has been chosen
over another leaves the reader with the impression that a different
pattern would have done the same job. This may sound petty but is
crucial since the usage-based model developed in Chapter 4 is based
partly on these selection principles.
Despite these drawbacks, and even though some of the factors do not
seem completely convincing to me, these sections give a thorough
and to my knowledge unique overview of the actual usage of selected
ditransitive verbs. While both the idea that the choice of a specific
pattern is principle-guided rather than optional and the identification of
guiding factors are not unprecedented in the literature, the wealth of
data and the kind of frequency-based analysis offered on the basis of
these data are new.
The section on peripheral ditransitives starts off from the question why
the relevant verbs can be used ditransitively in the first place. Here,
the author argues along the lines of grammatical institutionalization (a
process in the course of which verbs whose underlying semantic
component includes a potentially ditransitive meaning are licensed to
become possible ditransitive verbs structurally) and
conventionalization (a process by which possible ditransitive verbs,
i.e. the output of grammatical institutionalization, are turned into
probable ditransitive forms). More precisely, a potential ditransitive
verb is not attested in the basic ditransitive pattern, but the verbal
meaning includes the ditransitive situation schema either explicitly or
metaphorically. Peripheral verbs are grammatically institutionalized
verbs, i.e. verbs with potential ditransitive meaning are infrequently
attested in the basic ditransitive structure. Examples are SUPPLY (as
in 'Supply us some more drinks') and PROFIT. A verb that is used
increasingly in the ditransitive pattern then turns into a habitual or
typical (= conventionalized) ditransitive verb. The earlier classification
between peripheral, habitual and typical ditransitive verbs is thus
translated into different stages in the process of grammaticalisation,
without making a distinction between the latter two verb classes along
Chapter 4 proposes a network-like "model of speakers' linguistic
knowledge about ditransitive verbs" based on the corpus data and
analysis presented in Chapter 3, and combining "the general cognitive-
linguistic framework [...] with specific corpus-linguistic considerations"
(p. 221). This chapter would have highly benefited from a more
straight-to-the-point-like discussion. The first two sections develop
some general aspects of the kind of model employed here, focusing
on the importance of a large corpus of authentic data, as well as the
integration of lexical and syntactic aspects. The reader is also
introduced to one of the limitations of the methodology employed in
this study, which is that due to corpus limitations it can only account
for the core but not the periphery of a given phenomenon. In the
course of the core/periphery discussion in Section 4.2, the three
classes of ditransitives defined above are translated into "three zones
of prototypicality within the category of ditransitivity", where peripheral
ditransitives correspond to the least prototypical members, while
typical ditransitives correspond to the most prototypical members of
their class. In what follows, usage-based models are developed for the
most prototypical members only. At the heart of the discussion are
usage-based models of the "cognitive representation of the
lexicogrammar" of the two typical ditransitive verbs GIVE and TELL.
These models are highly specific, taking into account the frequency of
every pattern attested for these verbs as well as the selection
principles as identified for each of these patterns. Being truly usage-
based, they aim at bridging the gap between large amounts of
authentic corpus data and their analysis on the one hand and a
competence-related model of language cognition on the other hand.
Chapter 5 serves as a summary and conclusion.
In my view, the merit of this study, Chapters 3 and 4 in particular, lies
clearly in the pattern description and quantitative analysis of a wealth
of authentic data. One major point of criticism that Mukherjee puts
forward with respect to other models, in particular regarding the
generative framework, is that these models are often based
exclusively on "invented and decontextualised" (p. 229) sentences.
His answer is a model that is exclusively based on real data. Clearly
and fully recognized in the present study, this model is core-centered
and cannot account for any processes at the periphery. Moreover,
since the model focuses on individual verbs "for practical reasons", a
comprehensive approach accounting also for differences and
similarities between members of the class of ditransitive verbs,
concerning e.g. default patterns, predominant selection principles and
the like, cannot be offered (although an attempt to illustrate the
network-like character of the model is provided in Fig. 4-6, p. 248).
On a more formal note: the book contains far too many footnotes and
paragraph-long quotations interrupting the flow of the text, as well as
some lengthy sections summarizing previous research which could
often have been replaced by references to the work in question.
Leaving the advantages and drawbacks of different theoretical
frameworks as well as some aspects of textual organisation aside, the
data description and quantitative analysis that Mukherjee offers in this
study will be of interest to any linguist who works on ditransitive verbs
in English. The discussion centering on the importance of a
methodology based on authentic data is of even more general interest.
Nelson, Gerald, Sean Wallis & Bas Aarts (2002) Exploring Natural
Language: Working with the British Component of the International
Corpus of English. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Nicole Dehé is an Honorary Research Fellow at UCL, Dept of
Phonetics and Linguistics. She received her PhD in 2001 from the
University of Leipzig. She is the author of Particle Verbs in English:
Syntax, Information Structure and Intonation, 2002, Amsterdam:
Benjamins, and co-editor of a volume on particle verbs (Verb-Particle
Explorations, 2002, Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter; with Ray
Jackendoff, Andrew McIntyre and Silke Urban).
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