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Rethinking Verb Second$
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Rebecca Woods and Sam Wolfe

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780198844303

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: June 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198844303.001.0001

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Objects in the German prefield

Objects in the German prefield

A view from language production

(p.15) 2 Objects in the German prefield
Rethinking Verb Second

Markus Bader

Oxford University Press

From the perspective of language production, this chapter discusses the question of whether to move the subject or the object to the clause-initial position in a German Verb Second clause. A review of experimental investigations of language production shows that speakers of German tend to order arguments in such a way that the most accessible argument comes first, with accessibility defined in terms like animacy (‘animate before inanimate’) and discourse status (e.g. ‘given before new’). Speakers of German thus obey the same ordering principles that have been found to be at work in English and other languages. Despite the relative free word order of German, speakers rarely produce sentences with object-before-subject word order in experimental investigations. Instead, they behave like speakers of English and mostly use passivization in order to bring the underlying object argument in front of the underlying subject argument when the object is more accessible than the subject. Corpus data, however, show that object-initial clauses are not so infrequent after all. The second part of the chapter, therefore, discusses new findings concerning the discourse conditions that favour the production of object-initial clauses. These findings indicate, among other things, that the clausal position of an object is affected not only by its referent’s discourse status but also by its referential form. Objects occur in clause-initial position most frequently when referring to a given referent in the form of a demonstrative pronoun or NP.

Keywords:   language production, referential form, German, animacy, discourse status, passivization, object-initial clause, clause-initial position

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