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  • Particle verbs and local domains by Jochen Zeller
  • Benji Wald
Particle verbs and local domains. By Jochen Zeller. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2001. Pp. xi, 323. ISBN 1588110362. $109 (Hb).

In this revision of his doctoral dissertation from the University of Stuttgart, Zeller is concerned with the theoretical analysis of German particle verbs, those in which the particle is prefixed to the verb in some contexts and separated from it in others. For the most part he focuses on examples in which the particle is ‘prepositional’, as in equivalents of English climb in/out/up/down/over, but he also includes examples in which the particle is nominal, for example, Rad-fahren (bike-travel) lit. ‘(to) bike-ride’, and adjectival, where the meanings are most often idiomatic, for example, schwarz-fahren (black-travel) ‘ride without having paid for a ticket’. His main proposal is that particle verbs, while lexical items, are not single words but syntactic constructions that share certain syntactic, morphological, and phonological properties with simple lexical items by virtue of sharing with them the abstract structural context ‘local domain’.

Z’s argument style and data presentation brim with examples and ideas but also seem to me somewhat diffident about many of those ideas. Thus, he draws on an apparently inexhaustible fund of properties of particle verbs to continually present for consideration new data and further arguments in order to express qualifications that may even undermine his specific analytical proposals. He most often does this in footnotes but also continues this practice even into the text of the final chapter, ‘Conclusion’ (297–304). Nonetheless, this book offers a wealth of data, and reflects Z’s conscientiousness in making clear that much work remains to be done in even more precisely developing a theoretical model (using Ray Jackendoff’s modular version of generative grammar as a point of departure) to account for the behavior of particle verbs.

I was particularly interested in Ch. 7 (typological remarks and reanalysis, 271–96), where Z makes most of his comparative remarks on other Germanic languages. Here I felt that Z missed an opportunity to use some peculiar derivational properties of English particle verbs to support his major thesis that (Germanic) particle verbs are lexical items but not single words. Thus, while he notes that English differs from German and other Germanic languages in that English particle verbs do not allow prefixation of the particle to the verb under any derivational conditions (e.g. break through is nominalized as breakthrough, not **throughbreak or **through-breaking), he does not note, and seems unaware, that there is widespread hesitation among English speakers as to how to derive suffixed nominals and adjectives from particle verbs, for example, agentive breaker-through or break-througher or even breaker-througher, adjectival break-throughable or breakable-through(able)—or, to give the most copiously attested English example, fixer-upper, fixer-up, fix-upper—all used to describe a house for sale that needs to be repaired by the buyer. Such examples show that even in English there are points of hesitation over the word vs. phrase status of morphologically derived forms of particle verbs. Such observations could have been of service to Z’s thesis that in other Germanic languages particle verbs are sometimes reanalyzed as single words in certain derivational contexts. [End Page 826]

In sum, despite Z’s occasional reservations about his own analyses, his book is a valuable source of information about the grammatical behavior and status of particle verbs in German (and, to a lesser degree, in other Germanic languages). My brief discussion of derivational properties of English particle verbs overlooked by Z is intended to suggest that his major theoretical points may turn out to be even more useful than his book supposes.



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