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Discussion Note: Phrasal or Lexical Constructions?
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Discussion Note
Phrasal or lexical constructions?*

1. Introduction

Since the 1990s, more and more linguistic articles have been published in the framework of construction grammar. Some influential publications are Goldberg 1995, Fillmore 1999, and Kay & Fillmore 1999. Although Kay and Fillmore (1999:19) make it clear that Constructions are not necessarily phrasal, most of the authors suggest phrasal Constructions.1 This is especially apparent in construction grammar-inspired studies in the framework of head-driven phrase structure grammar (HPSG; see for instance Sag 1997, Ginzburg & Sag 2001, Borsley 2004, Haugereid 2004).

In what follows I show that the difference between phrasal approaches and lexical approaches is not as great as is sometimes claimed, although selecting one approach over the other may nevertheless have serious consequences. This discussion focuses on resultative constructions, a phenomenon for which both phrasal and lexical analyses have been suggested. A considerable number of different Constructions must be postulated to account for all of the patterns that may arise from the reordering of constituents or the realization of the resultative construction in connection with valence-changing processes. It is shown that adjuncts, predicate complexes, and derivational morphology pose considerable problems for the phrasal approach, while they are unproblematic for lexical rule-based approaches. An example of the resultative construction is given in 1. The resultative construction consists of a verb that denotes some event and a secondary predicate that provides information about the result of the event. In 1, the secondary predicate predicates over an NP that is not an argument of the verb. There are other patterns of resultative constructions, but they are not discussed here since they are irrelevant to the issue under discussion (see for instance Simpson 1983 and Rothstein 1985).

(1) They drank the pub dry. [End Page 850]

Such constructions have been analyzed as small clauses (see for instance Hoekstra 1988, den Dikken 1995), as complex predicates where drank and dry form a constituent at some level of representation (Dowty 1979:Ch. 4.7 for English; Neeleman & Weermann 1993, Neeleman 1995 for English and Dutch; Müller 2002:Ch. 5 for German), or as phrasal constructions (Goldberg 1995, Jackendoff 1997, Goldberg & Jackendoff 2004). In the following, I mainly discuss the question of how the combination of the verb with the NP the pub and the predicate dry is licensed. Proponents of (phrasal) construction grammar suggest either a phrasal Construction that licenses subject, verb, object, and secondary predicate as in 2a or a phrasal Construction that licenses verb, object, and secondary predicate as in 2b.


a. [SUBJ [V OBJ OBL]]     (Goldberg 1995:192)

b. VP → V NP AP/PP     (Goldberg & Jackendoff 2004)

The lexicon-oriented approaches, by contrast, do not assume special phrase structure rules for resultative constructions, but rather additional lexical items that license the elements present in resultative constructions (see Simpson 1983, Wunderlich 1992:45, Verspoor 1997, Wechsler 1997, Wechsler & Noh 2001, and Müller 2002 for analyses of English, German, and Korean resultative constructions).

Approaches like Goldberg’s face certain problems when interaction with other phenomena (e.g. passive, middle) is considered. In the following, I transfer Goldberg’s analysis to German and show that further problems arise since German has a much freer constituent order than English and allows interaction with derivational morphology. The problems that already exist in the analysis of English are thus much more apparent. I deal with interactions between resultative constructions and syntax (§2) and morphology (§5). While there are several phenomena for which it is unclear what a phrasal analysis might look like, it is clear that a large number of phrasal Constructions is needed to account for the patterns that can be analyzed. Proponents of construction grammar argue that this is not a problem since the regularities are captured in an inheritance hierarchy and such inheritance hierarchies can be computed automatically from the set of Constructions that are stated by the grammar writer. I show in §3 that the algorithm that was suggested by Kay (2002:§7.1) does not work and that attempts to fix it lead to unwanted consequences. I then discuss examples from Yucatec Maya that show that passives cannot be analyzed with reference to...