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5.2 Argument Asymmetrie Again

The data shown in (19) under 4.2 suggest that the traditional distinction of 'external' and 'internal' arguments may play a role in the description of scrambling phenomena. An external argument is usually considered to be marked as such in the lexicon and syntactically licensed by a functional head (F in Haider's model,  I in Williams 1994). Grimshaw (1990) proposes that instead of arbitrary marking (e.g. as 'designated' in Haider's framework), prominence relations within the A-structure determine the external argument, i.e. the argument that is both highest in the thematic hierarchy and leftmost in the logical representation (e.g. the causative agent) will be considered external.

Whereas in English, external arguments are always saturated 'externally', i.e. outside of the VP, the same is not the case for German, i.e. there is no evidence that a typical German subject is not inside VP. The relation towards VP may thus not be a sufficient measure to pick out a specific argument as 'external'.  As (22) shows, case (nominative) does not in itself provide a diagnostic for externality either.

Bayer/Kornfilt propose a mechanism of "complex category formation" that may provide such a diagnostic. Their analysis rests on the assumption that there is no principle which would demand that feature clusters have to be saturated in all languages in the same way. English may require that certain features (e.g. tense, agreement etc.) enter the syntactic derivation independently from the verbal features, but German may allow/require that the feature clusters expressed in V and I in English are saturated en bloc. BK capture this by positing a "complex category formation" process, which amounts to merging V and I at the beginning of the derivation to form a complex category [ V / I ]. It may now be possible that in spite of being part of the same complex category, I and V nevertheless project independently in such a way that all internal arguments are simple adjuncts to VP, whereas the external argument additionally projects I' to IP.

Now, the A-structure of the idiomatic expressions den MannACC der SchlagNOM treffen (the object is exchangable) would differ from e.g. die PrinzessinNOM den PrinzenACC heiratet in the following way:


            a.         lx             ly              [x TREFFEN y]           semantic form

                          |               |    

                        f1, d           f2                                                                      syntactic form


            b.         ly        l x                   [ x  HEIRATEN y ]      semantic form

                         |          |

                        f1             f2, d                                                        syntactic form

According to Grimshaw's (1990) prominence theory, x (der Schlag) in (31a) should be the external argument, just like x (die Prinzessin) in (31b): both may be considered AGENTs and are most prominent in the logical form. Syntactically, however, derSchlag differs from die Prinzessin, insofar as it cannot be fronted with the verb. The only difference in (31) between der Schlag and die Prinzessin is that l-conversion would apply to die Prinzessin first and to der Schlag last. It could thus be that the prominence effect is simply a side effect of a more basic mechanism:  the position of the l-operator determines externality. Since l-position coincides with prominence for most verbs, prominence theory would thus usually make correct predictions, although on the basis of a slightly wrong assumption.

For (31b), x is the external argument projecting the I-system, whereas y is the external argument for (31a). The sentences (22a) and (16a), repeated here as (32a) and (b) would thus have the structure in (32c) and (d) respectively:

(32)      a.         ..., daß den Mann der Schlag getroffen hat.

            b.         ..., daß die Prinzessin den Prinzen geheiratet hat.

Since both den Mann and die Prinzessin are only licensed as occupants of the unique [Spec, IP]-position, they cannot be fronted as members of VP. This explanation works under the assumption that IP is needed in situ to enter a bidirectional licensing relationship with F, which means that IP cannot be fronted. V2-fronting thus involves 'disentangling' the VP/IP-complex, i.e. 'extraction' of VP.

B/K's formulation of complex category formation is an attempt to make the proposal conform to standard 2-dimensional notation. To better visualize the processes involved, it may be preferable to think of complex categories in 3-dimensional terms, as sketched in (33):


Such a 3-dimensional representation would allow for structural Gestal switches: with respect to its formal properties, I would be the head of the clause, whereas V functions as a semantic head.[1]Or, in other conceptual terms, sentence representations have several tiers, including but not limited to: one formal (I-system), one semantic (V-system), and one morphophonological tier (the overt lexical expressions associated with each terminal node)[2]. Such a tier analysis would have one advantage over B/K's model: extraction of VP does not infringe on the integrity of the I-system, i.e. no complex process of 'disentangling' is required.

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© Philipp Strazny 1997

[1]               Bayer/Kornfilt attribute the first formulation of such a view Abney (1986). Proposals arguing for syntactic Gestalt switches include Chomsky (1995a) arguing that heads are both minimal and maximal, and Pesetsky (1994), who proposes that double object constructions in English are organized in both layered (tertiary branching) and cascade (binary branching) structures. 

[2]               This is not to argue that morphological features would have to be realized on the same tier as phonological features.