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Review of  Discontinuous NPs in German

Reviewer: Guido Josef Oebel
Book Title: Discontinuous NPs in German
Book Author: Kordula De Kuthy
Publisher: CSLI Publications
Linguistic Field(s): Syntax
Subject Language(s): German
Issue Number: 14.381

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Date: Thu, 30 Jan 2003 13:34:57 +0900
From: oebel
Subject: Discontinuous NPs in German: A Case Study of the Interaction of Syntax, Semantics, and Pragmatics

De Kuthy, Kordula (2002) Discontinuous NPs in German:
A Case Study of the Interaction of Syntax, Semantics, and
Pragmatics. CSLI Publications, paperback ISBN 1-57586-398-7,
x+196pp, Studies in Constraint-Based Lexicalism.

Announced at

Reviewed by: Guido Oebel, Saga National University (Japan)

The present book is Kordula De Kuthy's revised version of her
Ph.D. thesis at the University of the Saarland (Germany)
completed in November 2000.


The author investigates a particular word order phenomenon in
German, the occurrence of discontinuous Noun Phrases (NPs) in
order to explore the division of labour between the syntactic
analysis and lexical as well as discourse constraints on this
construction referred to as NP-PP (Noun Phrase-Prepositional
Phrase) split construction. She argues that many of the factors
previously focusing mainly on explaining syntactic restrictions on
movement are in fact derivable from discourse factors.

Following her brief and readily comprehensible introduction
(1-3pp) addressing not only a readership of native German
speakers and/or Germanistic linguists, in the first part of the
book, De Kuthy provides an overview of the empirical
characteristics of NP-PP split construction. Doing so, chapter 2:
'Basic Properties' (5-26pp) illustrates the syntactic, semantic and
pragmatic properties of the construction while chapter 3: 'Other
Partial NP Phenomena' (27-40pp) is about comparing the NP-PP
split construction to other phenomena involving discontinuous

Founded on these empirical characteristics of the NP-PP split
construction, in part two De Kuthy investigates two key
questions, one concerned with the proper syntactic analysis of the
construction, the other with the integration of such a syntactic
analysis with an approach to the lexical and contextual factors

Starting with the 'Syntactic Aspects' and its analysis of NP-PP
split construction in chapter 4: (41-92pp), De Kuthy reevaluates
the empirical basis of the choice between the two syntactic
analysis ideas proposed in the literature, extraction and
reanalysis, thus providing an explicit theory licensing
reanalysis-like structures for NP-PP split within the framework of
Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar (HPSG). Regarding the
lexical-semantic effects observable for the NP-PP split
construction, in chapter 5: 'Semantic Aspects' (93-105pp) she
shows how an account based on the generative lexicon can be
integrated into her syntactic HPSG analysis. Finally, in order to
find an explanation for the context effects emerging with the
construction, in chapter 6: 'Pragmatic Aspects' (107-177pp), De
Kuthy explores the possible focus-background structures of
NP-PP split constructions.

In the following, De Kuthy integrates the empirical findings from
this investigation of discourse requirements into her account of
NP-PP split by developing an information-structure component
for her HPSG fragment of German. Since this information
structure component accounts for some of the restrictions
traditionally viewed as part of syntax, according to the author,
she wants her thesis to be 'understood as arguing for a more equal
division of labor between syntax theory and a theory of discourse,
which has been unevenly balanced as a result of the significant
advances in syntactic theorizing in the generative enterprise'.

In order to illustrate De Kuthy's focus of investigating the
occurrence of discontinuous NPs in German, i.e. NP- PP split
construction, in the following exemplary sentences from her book
are cited. Focusing on the contextual factors influencing the
grammaticality of the construction, the NP-PP split construction
is exemplified in (Sentence 1 in German Ö German 'Umlaut', i.e.
vowel mutation , sentence 1.1 word-for-word translation into
English, sentence 1.2 English translation complying with
grammatical and syntactical rules of the target language) - reviewer's
annotation: in this review, German 'Umlaute', i.e.
vowel mutation, are given as 'ae', 'oe' and 'ue' in order not to
misrepresent their display on LinguistList-subscribers' screens):

(1) Ueber Syntax hat Sarah sich (ein Buch) ausgeliehen.
(1.1) About-syntax-has-Sarah-self-a-book-borrowed
(1.2) Sarah borrowed a book on syntax.

This construction often referred to as so-called 'extraction of PPs
from NPs' for the PP-fronting 'ueber Syntax' in (1) is that the PP
has been extracted from the NP 'ein Buch' of which the PP is a
dependent specifying the topic of the book.

The reverse case, however, with NP-fronting is equally possible,
as illustrated in the following example:

(2) (Ein Buch) hat Sarah sich ueber Syntax ausgeliehen.
(2.1) a-book-has-Sarah-herself-about-Syntax-borrowed
(2.2) Sarah borrowed a book about Syntax.

It has often been observed that grammatical examples of NP-PP
split become ungrammatical when the embedding verb (see
sentences 1 and 2: 'ausleihen') is replaced by a verb (see sentences
3 and 4: 'klauen') which has the same syntactic properties but a
different semantics.

(3) *Ueber Syntax hat Sarah (ein Buch) geklaut.
(3.1) about-syntax-has-Sarah-a-book-stolen
(3.2) Sarah stole a book about syntax.

(4) *(Ein Buch) hat Sarah ueber Syntax geklaut.
(4.1) a-book-has-Sarah-about-syntax-stolen
(4.2) Sarah stole a book about syntax.

De Kuthy argues that given an appropriate context as in (5)
sentences like (3) and (4), interestingly, become much more

(5) Gestern wurde in der Bibliothek eine Anzahl von
Linguistikbüchern geklaut. Vor allem Semantikbücher
verschwanden dabei. Ueber Syntax wurde jedoch (nur ein
einziges Buch) gestohlen.
(5.1) yesterday-was-in-the-library-a-number-of-linguistics-books-
stolen//mostly-semantics-books-disappeared-(?on that occasion Ö
added by the reviewer!)//about-syntax-was-however- only-one-
(5.2) Yesterday, a number of linguistics books were stolen from
the library. Mostly books on semantic disappeared. There was,
however, only one book about syntax stolen.

To find an explanation for these context effects, De Kuthy
examines the possible focus-background structures of the
construction observing that separating a PP from an NP is only
acceptable if not both the NP and the PP are part of the same
focus projection or the background of a sentence. An important
consequence of this observation is that some of the supposed
syntactic restrictions on the construction, such as the Specificity
Effect and the Specified Subject Condition, can straightforwardly
be explained as falling out of the discourse restrictions for this
construction. To integrate these observations into the HPSG
account of German, we De Kuthy develops an information
structure component in which the focus-background structure of
signs can be represented. This enables her to formulate a
principle which restricts the syntactic occurrence of NP-PP split
constructions to adequate focus-background structures.

Critical evaluation

This book represents a comprehensive investigation of the
particular word order phenomenon in German, the so-called
NP-PP split construction. In the first part of her book, De Kuthy
explores the empirical characteristics of the NP-PP split
construction, actually as a basis for its theoretical interpretation.
Concerning syntax, she shows both elements of the construction
the partial NP as well as the split PP can freely occur
independently of each other in the so-called 'Vorfeld' and in the
'Mittelfeld' whereas their occurrence in the 'Nachfeld' -- I wonder
whether there is a proper English translation for these
specifically German technical terms? -- is subject to several
restrictions. Concerning the syntactic and semantic function of
the partial NP and the split PP, the author proves that only PP
adjuncts modifying the noun may occur separately from the NP.
Simultaneously, PP arguments can never be separated from their
nominal head as they occur with deverbal nouns. On the
lexical-semantic and pragmatic side, according to De Kuthy,
splitting a PP from an NP appears possible only in certain
verb-noun combinations. Provided an appropriate context, even
cases so far regarded ungrammatical thus become acceptable. At
the end of the introducing part of the book, De Kuthy delivers
criteria for distinguishing the NP-PP split construction from
apparently similar phenomena such as secondary predication, NP
split, etc.

In the second part of the book, De Kuthy discusses theoretical
investigations of the NP-PP split construction along with two
established syntactic approaches proposed for the construction in
the literature, extraction and reanalysis. In my opinion, she
succeeds in questioning the empirical arguments for preferring
extraction, thus concluding that certain word order phenomena
support a reanalysis approach to the construction. She even
proves capable of formalizing a reanalysis-like theory in the
HPSG-paradigm using the dependent-raising mechanism Ö
undisputedly the most valuable contribution within her thesis
along with her formulating a principle restricting the syntactic
occurrence of NP-PP split constructions to adequate
focus-background structures.

My general impression of De Kuthy's book is a thoroughly positive
one! Of course, this revised version of her thesis can be absolutely
regarded a comprehensive investigation of the word order
phenomenon NP-PP split construction, particularly occurring in
German. Furthermore, I consider it a valuable contribution to the
general question of how and to what extent the factors influencing
word order phenomena are to be localized syntactically,
semantically or pragmatically and how they interact with each
other. Despite my high regard I can't avoid mentioning some few
but only slight 'drops of bitterness' (in German: 'Wermutstropfen')
regarding misspellings and omissions, respectively, I came across:

(24) c. *Nach exotischen Geruechen konnte (sic!) selbst
(ausgefallene Wuensche) befriedigt werden.
(43) b. Von Peter habe ich bislangen (sic!) nur (den Vater)
(213) Karls (sic!) has given the book to the child.
(219) What did none of (sic!) do?

It is just deplorable that these avoidable slips of the pen have
even been carried over to the revised version.

Then there are some borderline cases I detected while reading
and examining most of de Kuthy's exemplary sentences. The
reason why I consider the following sentences at least doubtful
might be founded on my subtle feeling of language
('Sprachgefuehl') as a native speaker of German rather than on
facts. At any rate, I am far from intending to do her wrong, maybe
the reason for my doubts stems from my own lack of
understanding, at least with regard to this specific topic. Anyhow,
I would appreciate if my remarks get a further discussion on the
grammaticality and/or acceptability of the following sentences

(40) a. *Von Maria bewundere ich die Schoenheit.
of Maria-admire-I-the-beauty
I admire Maria's beauty.

Reviewer's proposed German sentence of improvement:
'An Maria bewundere ich die Schoenheit. 'Why not simply
exchanging the German preposition 'von' for 'an' and the sentence
becomes perfectly acceptable for native speakers?

(170) a. ?? Hans las (ein Buch ueber ihn).
Hans read a book about himself.

Reviewer's proposed English sentence of improvement:
'Hans read a book about him.' ^Ö in this case 'him' being a third
person apart from Hans otherwise the source sentence should
read: 'Hans las ein Buch ueber sich' in order to match the English
translation 'himself'.

(173) a. Hans schenkte mir ein Buch von sich.
Hans gave me a book of him as a present.

Reviewer's proposed English sentence of improvement:
'Hans gave me a book of his as a present. '

(299) Ich habe mir das Buch ueber Syntax gekauft, das du mir
letztlich empfohlen hast.
I bought the book about syntax that you recently recommended to

Reviewer's proposed German sentence of improvement:
'Ich habe mir das Buch ueber Syntax gekauft, das du mir letztens
empfohlen hast. ' (the German 'letztlich' is in English 'in the end'
and unfortunately not corresponding to 'letztens' as suggested by

(302) b. *Von Marga habe ich (das Buch) gekauft.

Reviewer's proposed German sentence of improvement:
'I bought the book from Marga' with Marga as the seller of the
book rather than its author.

Lastly, may I suggest considering a list of abbreviations which are
used throughout the thesis just in case further editions of the
book should be printed so that apart from experts in linguistics
even less experienced readers might find easier access to this book
worth reading!?

References (online):

References (print):

De Kuthy, Kordula: Splitting PPs from NPs. In Walt Detmar
Meurers and Tibor Kiss (eds.): Constraint-based Approaches to
Germanic Syntax, Stanford: CSLI Publications.

Guido Oebel (PhD in linguistics) is a native German currently teaching German as A Foreign Language (DaF) and FLL at Saga National University and Kurume University both on the Southern island of Kyushu (Japan). His main areas of research are: DaF, sociolinguistics, bilinguism, adult education and autonomous learning and approaches, particularly 'Learning by Teaching' (LdL).

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