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  • On particle verbs and similar constructions in German by Anke Lüdeling
  • Gary H. Toops
On particle verbs and similar constructions in German. By Anke Lüdeling. (Dissertations in linguistics.) Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications, 2001. Pp. xiv, 178. ISBN: 1-575863-01-4. Cloth $65.00. Paper $23.00.

Lüdeling’s examination of German ‘particle verbs’ includes verbs traditionally regarded as having so-called separable prefixes (ankommen ‘arrive’, abfahren ‘depart’, anlachen ‘laugh at, deride’) as well as verbs occurring together with fixed manner adverbs (wach küssen ‘wake with a kiss’, kaputtmachen ‘break’, etc.). In the introduction to this somewhat revised version of her doctoral dissertation, L reveals that her work has led her to conclude that particle verbs as such do not actually exist and that ‘what people call particle verbs are lexicalized phrasal constructions’ (ix–x). Nevertheless, L indulges the reader with the following working definition: ‘Particle verbs are constructions that consist of a verb and a preverb and that behave like words in some respects and like syntactic constructions in others’ (1).

According to the author, there are two basic problems associated with the notion of German particle verbs: One is the ‘structure problem’ concerning the question of whether particle verbs are morphological objects or phrasal constructions; the other is the ‘delimitation problem’ concerning the question of how particle verbs can be distinguished from similar (surface) constructions. To obviate these problems in the course of her examination, L adopts as a convenient construct the cover term ‘preverb verb constructions [PVCs]’ (22–23).

In the second of six chapters, ‘Particle verbs in syntax, semantics, and phonology’, L demonstrates that a given preverb may or may not be subject to adverbial modification (cf. Sie machten die Tür zum Balkon ganz auf ‘They opened the door to the balcony all the way’ vs. *Sie führten das Stück ganz auf ‘They performed the play all the way’). She formulates a test whereby an element is a phrase or an independent word if it can be modified. L maintains that the separable prefix auf of aufmachen ‘open (up)’ in the former sentence is modifiable by an adverb like ganz ‘completely, all the way’ because it is semantically independent or transparent while in the latter German sentence, the same preverb auf of aufführen ‘perform, put on’ cannot be adverbially modified because it lacks semantic independence (56–57). Observations such as these lend support to L’s assertion that German particle verbs do not constitute a uniquely delineable class (119, 129, 138, and passim).

In Ch. 3, ‘Particle verbs in morphology’, L concedes that it is ‘difficult to assert the category of a prefix’. Reasoning, however, that separable prefixes historically developed from prepositions, with which many of them remain homophonous, L argues that a number of separable prefixes ‘have the semantic content of a preposition’ (71). In Ch. 4, ‘Strange words or strange phrases?’, L further maintains that prefixes (or particles) ‘are never syntactic complements, but always secondary predicates or adverbs’ (135).

In Ch. 5, ‘Preverbs as secondary predicates or adverbs’, L demonstrates that all PVCs (see above) lend [End Page 812] themselves to a phrasal analysis even if they do not constitute a uniform class of constructions. She maintains that, structurally, preverbs appear in two distinct positions—either as sisters to V or as V′ adjuncts (159).

On the whole L’s argumentation is precise, thorough, and easy to follow. In the span of only 164 pages, L manages to subject PVCs to an impressive array of diagnostics. Equally impressive is her facility in citing and providing clear summaries of the work of others as it relates to her own discussion of the relevant facts.

Gary H. Toops
Wichita State University


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pp. 812-813
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