Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login
amazon logo
More Info

New from Oxford University Press!


The Language Hoax

By John H. McWhorter

The Language Hoax "argues that that all humans process life the same way, regardless of their language."

New from Cambridge University Press!


Language and Development in Africa

By H. Ekkehard Wolff

Language and Development in Africa "discusses the resourcefulness of languages, both local and global, in view of the ongoing transformation of African societies as much as for economic development.. "

The LINGUIST List is dedicated to providing information on language and language analysis, and to providing the discipline of linguistics with the infrastructure necessary to function in the digital world. LINGUIST is a free resource, run by linguistics students and faculty, and supported primarily by your donations. Please support LINGUIST List during the 2016 Fund Drive.

Review of  Infinitival Syntax

Reviewer: Barbara Schlücker
Book Title: Infinitival Syntax
Book Author: Tanja Schmid
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Syntax
Subject Language(s): Afrikaans
Issue Number: 16.3587

Discuss this Review
Help on Posting
Date: Thu, 15 Dec 2005 11:54:06 +0100
From: Barbara Schlücker
Subject: Infinitival Syntax: Infinitivus Pro Participio as a repair strategy

AUTHOR: Schmid, Tanja
TITLE: Infinitival Syntax
SUBTITLE: Infinitivus Pro Participio as a repair strategy
SERIES: Linguistik Aktuell/Linguistics Today 79
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2005

Barbara Schlücker, Institut für Deutsche und Niederländische
Philologie, Freie Universität Berlin


This book is a study on the 'Infinitivus Pro Participio'-construction (IPP)
in several West Germanic languages. IPP is a construction where an
unexpected form (i.e. the bare infinitive) appears instead of the past
participle which would be the expected form. The German term for the
IPP-construction, 'Ersatzinfinitiv' ('substitute infinitive'), reflects this
very well.

The main claim of the study is that IPP is a 'last resort' or repair
strategy which only appears in cases where the past participle
obviously would even 'be worse' and therefore is inadmissible. This
claim comes along with the idea that the violation of grammatical rules
does not inevitably cause ungrammaticality. Instead, grammatical rules
are thought to be violable. Therefore the framework chosen for this
study is Optimality Theory (OT) as this theory assumes violable rules
(or constraints) and violation of constraints in OT does not lead
automatically to ungrammaticality, contrary to other theories of
generative grammar. In OT, the assumption of violable and
hierarchically ordered constraints is combined with the idea of a
competition between two or more candidates. From this competition,
one candidate comes out as optimal and blocks the other candidates.

IPP-constructions can be found in a subset of West Germanic
languages, including Standard German and Dutch and several
German and Dutch varieties, and excluding English, Frisian and
Yiddish. The study therefore is comparative in nature and it includes
data from Standard German, Dutch, West Flemish, Afrikaans, and
three Swiss German dialects (Bernese German, Sankt Gallen
German, Zürich German), although the focus is on Standard German.


After a short introductory chapter, the book starts out by presenting
the relevant data (chapters 2 & 3). IPP-constructions are 3-verb-
clusters and they appear in the present perfect, in the past perfect as
well as in the future perfect. In these constructions, the IPP-verb,
marked with [2] below, appears as a bare infinitive instead of as a past
participle. The numbers assigned to the verbs in the following
examples mark their hierarchical, i.e. selectional, order. The highest
verb of the hierarchy is assigned a [1], the next a [2] and the
hierarchically lowest verb a [3].

(1) a. *dass er ihn die Medizin hat[1] trinken[3] gelassen[2] 
b. dass er ihn die Medizin hat[1] trinken[3] lassen[2]
that he him the medicine has[1] drink[3] made[2] / make[2]
'that he has made him drink the medicine'

However, such a substitution does not take place in every 3-verb-
cluster in the present perfect as indicated by the data in (2): Here,
substitution of the past participle with the bare infinitive leads to
ungrammaticality. Furthermore, there are constructions where IPP is
optional, see (3).

(2) a.  die Leute stehen[3] geblieben[2] sind[1] 
b. *dass die Leute stehen[3] bleiben[2] sind[1]
that the people stand[3] remained[2] /remain [2] have[1]
'that the people have remained standing'

(3) a. Er hat[1] sie rufen[3] hören[2].
b. Er hat[1] sie rufen[3] gehört[2].
He has[1] her call[3] hear[2] / heard[2]
'He has heard her calling'

Whether the IPP-construction in a potential IPP-language is obligatory,
ungrammatical or optional depends among other things on the verb
class of the IPP-verb. Schmid identifies seven verb classes which
trigger the IPP-construction in at least one of the languages examined.
Interestingly, this list of verb classes can be ordered hierarchically as
in (4):

(4) causatives < modals < perception verbs < benefactives < duratives
< inchoatives < control verbs

This means that if in a certain language IPP is obligatory with
benefactives, IPP is also obligatory with perception verbs, modals and
causatives. But on the other hand, this does not give any information
about the verb classes ranked lower, i.e. from the fact that IPP is
obligatory with benefactives it cannot be deduced whether IPP does
also appear with duratives, inchoatives or control verbs. Thus, in a
given language, causatives and modals are most likely to show IPP
whereas inchoatives and control verbs are least likely to show IPP.
The languages examined differ with regard to the verb classes for
which they show obligatory, optional and impossible IPP. With other
words, they seem to differ regarding the point at which they cut off the
hierarchy in (4).

Another important point to mention is verb order in IPP-constructions.
The IPP-languages differ with regard to the verb order they show in
IPP-constructions. All logically possible verb orders appear in IPP-
constructions. Verb order in IPP-constructions often differs from the
verb order in the perfect tense with a past participle (e.g. (1b) vs.
(2a)). Nevertheless, it is not exceptional in the sense that it does not
appear anywhere else in the languages: there often is a coincidence
with the verb order in the future tense.

After introducing the relevant data, Schmid presents an overview of
previous IPP-analyses in the literature which range from the 19th
century (Grimm 1837) to very recent work (e.g. Wurmbrand 2004)
both with generative and non-generative background (chapter 4).
There are two main groups of analyses: one which assumes that the
infinitive actually is not a true infinitive but a participle with ''IPP-
morphology'', and the other which assumes the infinitive to be what it
looks like, namely an infinitive. Furthermore, Schmid discusses all
analyses with regard to the languages examined and the kind of
triggers of the IPP-construction which are assumed. As a result of
comparing the previous analyses to her observations Schmid
formulates the leading questions for her own analysis: How is IPP
accounted for and what functions as a trigger for IPP? How can the
hierarchy of potential IPP verbs (verb classes, see (4)) become
implemented? How can optional IPP be accounted for and what about
the alternation of obligatory, optional and impossible IPP across the
languages? How to explain verb order?

Chapter 5 provides a short introduction to OT. The analysis of IPP in
Standard German is presented in the chapters 6 to 8, based on the
questions raised before. In these chapters, several constraints are
introduced which can account for obligatory, optional and impossible
IPP as well as for verb order. Here, I will restrict myself to presenting
the main idea of the analysis, namely how to account for obligatory vs.
impossible IPP (chapter 6). As said before, Schmid considers IPP
a 'repair strategy' which only occurs if the alternative would even be
more 'costly'. The alternative is the past participle, and 'more costly'
means that this alternative violates more or more important constraints
than the infinitive does. Basically, obligatory versus impossible IPP is
the result of the interaction of two constraints. One of them excludes
the past participle as the sister of a VP whose head is an infinitive –
IPP (substitution of a past participle by an infinitive) is a repair strategy
in order to avoid violation of this constraint. The other constraint
demands the morphological selectional properties of lexical items to
be observed. This means that if in the present perfect the auxiliary
selects as complement a verb which is a past participle, and the past
participle is substituted by an infinitive, the morphological selectional
properties are not observed. Thus substitution of a past participle by
an infinitive (=IPP) violates this constraint.

Whether IPP comes out as obligatory or as impossible depends on the
ranking of these two constraints: if the first one outranks the second,
the IPP-construction comes out as optimal candidate, as it fulfills the
higher ranked constraint and only violates the lower ranked constraint.
If however the second one outranks the first, the past participle is the
optimal candidate and IPP is blocked, as it violates the higher ranked
constraint. As the question whether IPP is obligatory or impossible
depends on the verb class, there are separate versions of the first
constraint for each verb class, and the ranking with regard to the
second constraint varies for each verb class.

In chapter 7 several constraints are introduced which account for verb
order. Chapter 8 is about optional IPP. Optionality poses a problem for
OT because there is one optimal candidate which blocks all other
candidates. Therefore optionality, or, in other words, the existence of
two optimal candidates, is not expected under this approach. Schmid
discusses several approaches which account for optionality in OT,
from which two ('neutralization approach' and 'global tie approach')
are shown to be able to account for her data.

The final chapter provides a comparative analysis of obligatory,
optional and impossible IPP in the seven West Germanic languages as
well as an explanation of the variation in word order of the IPP-
construction across these languages. It can be shown that the same
constraints are responsible for IPP in the other Germanic languages
as introduced before for Standard German. The differences regarding
obligation, optionality or impossibility of IPP for each verb class across
the languages result from different rankings of these constraints.


The comparative approach of this study is very attractive. First,
although it has often been noted in the literature that IPP can be found
in several languages, the studies so far are restricted to Dutch and
German. The study at hand fills this gap. Second, a lot of data are
given and they are presented in a very thorough and systematic way.
Third, and what is most important, the study succeeds in giving an
analysis which goes beyond an analysis of IPP for the individual
languages. It is fascinating to see how much variation there is
concerning IPP across languages which are related so close to each
other, and, at the same time, to observe the regularities and parallels
between these different IPP-constructions (see for example the
ordered list of IPP-verb classes in (4)). By identifying a small number
of constraints which are held to be responsible for IPP in all
languages, a connection is established between IPP-constructions
across the languages, despite the differences regarding verb classes
triggering IPP and verb order.

As mentioned above, the data as well as the analysis proper are
characterized by a thorough, systematic and clearly laid out way of
presentation. In contrast, however, the introduction to OT is very
short. Although Schmid recommends important literature on OT for
those interested in it, a more detailed introduction would be desirable
as the object of investigation is and has been subject to studies with
all kinds of theoretical backgrounds. For readers with a non-OT
background interested in the issue a more detailed introduction would
be helpful.

This aspect is also related to the (very difficult and basic) question
how to motivate a certain constraint. Why does grammar have such
rules? There are rules for which this intuitively seems clear (e.g. the
demand of morphological properties to be obtained in the output). But
for others this is less obvious. What for example is the motivation for
the constraint which is responsible for the IPP-construction, namely
that a past participle must not be the sister of a VP whose head is an
infinitive? Is there any independent motivation except that such a
constraint can explain the data? Of course, this is a very hard
question to answer which probably cannot be answered at all.
Nevertheless it would have been interesting to discuss this problem
and thereby to got a little further into the fundamentals of OT.

However, discussing the fundamentals of OT probably exceeds the
limits and the intentions of this book. Taking these theoretical issues
for granted, the study provides a thorough and inspiring analysis of
IPP which impresses the reader by its comparative approach as well
as by taking into consideration the aspects of verb order and verb
classes in a systematic way like it has not been done before.


Grimm, Jakob (1837): Deutsche Grammatik, volume 4. Göttingen:
Dieterichsche Buchhandlung

Wurmbrand, Susanne (2004): Syntactic vs. post-syntactic movement.
In S. Burelle and S. Somesfalean (eds.), Proceedings of the 2003
Annual Meeting of the Canadian Linguistic Association (CLA), 284-295

Barbara Schlücker is a Ph.D. student currently working at the
department of Dutch linguistics at the Free University Berlin. She
works on a Ph.D.-project about the German copular verb 'bleiben'
('remain'). Her research interests are lexical semantics and event
semantics, syntax as well as comparative linguistics of the Germanic