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2. Default Argument Orderings

In most cases, German does not seem to have any restrictions on the surface ordering of the verb's arguments, i.e. (7a) and (7b) have roughly the same interpretation (except for a shift in focus):

 

(7)

            a.         ..., daß die Prinzessin     den Prinzen       heiratete.

                             that the princessNOM the  princeACC married

                        ... that the princess married the prince.  

            b.         ..., daß den Prinzen die Prinzessin heiratete.

 

Most native speakers will intuitively say that (7a) represents the 'basic’ ordering. According to Höhle (1982), there is independent evidence supporting such intuitions: the 'basic' word orders usually have the greatest number of possible foci and the greatest potential for contextual adequacy, i.e. they can serve as answers to a wider range of questions (cp. Haider 1993, Frey 1994). Most analysts thus agree that structures like (7b) are somehow 'derived' from the corresponding 'basic' word order (i.e. (7a)), while disagreement revolves around the question of how exactly this 'derivation'[1] may take place.

Denying the existence of default argument orders would amount to a serious violation of all assumptions concerning information storage economy. A verb like heiraten, 'marry', would then have two lexicon entries specifying the two possible argument orderings NOM-ACC-V and ACC-NOM-V. For 3-place-predicates one would have to posit up to six argument orderings. For reasons of economy, I will thus base my further discussion on the notion that attempts to 'derive' scrambled structures from 'default' ones are not only reasonable, but driven by economic necessity. 

 

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© Philipp Strazny 1997


[1]               I set 'derivation' in quotation marks to differentiate from 'syntactic derivation'. When I speak of the 'derivation of scrambling structures', I simply mean to imply that 'scrambled structures' are not 'garbled structures', in the sense that each displaced argument is traceable to a specific position in the underlying argument structure of the predicate.