A Case of Generative-Constructionalist Convergence – and a Historical-Contrastive Response

Wednesday 17 October 2018, 4.00PM - 5.30pm

Speaker(s): Torsten Leuschner (Ghent University)

Among the most rewarding topics of crosslinguistic comparison are structures that look superficially similar in genetically related languages like English and German. A case in point are V1-conditionals:

(1) Scheitert der Euro, dann scheitert Europa. (Merkel)

(2) Should the Euro fail, Europe will fail. (Google)

 German V1-protases can contain any verb form at all, including main verbs like scheitern 'fail' in the present indicative. English V1-protases allow just should, had and were, which are all non-present (Leuschner/Van den Nest 2015, with corpus data from the BNC and parts of the German DeReKo).

After an introductory survey of V1-conditionals in German and English, my talk will successively adopt the synchronic and the diachronic perspectives. In the synchronic perspective, so-called Conditional Inversion (Iatridou/Embick 1994) in English has recently been the site of a (perhaps unexpected) meeting of generativist and constructionalist minds. What construction grammarians regard as the isolation of should-/had-/were-conditionals in an already fragmented V1 sub-constructicon (Kim 2011) has been read by some generativists as evidence of a lexically defined "nano"-level at the bottom of the head movement hierarchy (Biberauer/Roberts 2016). By contrast, German V1-conditionals can be modelled as a node in a well-structured V1 sub-constructicon (Diessel 2007) or as the result of movement to C as a structurally, rather than lexically, defined mesoparameter. From the constructionalist point of view, the routine occurrence in German of proverbs in the form of V1-conditionals, and of slogans derived from or alluding to such proverbs, can be treated as evidence of the schematisation of the V1-conditional as a constructional template (Leuschner in press).

In the second part of my talk, I will outline a research project on V1-conditionals in German and English which shifts attention from synchronic contrasts to the comparison of diachronies ("Sprach-wandelvergleich", cf. Fleischer/Simon, eds., 2013). A useful starting point is the idea that V1-conditionals in these two languages have been developing asynchronically, i.e. from similar origins but at different speeds (König 2012; for discussion cf. Breitbarth/Delva/Leuschner 2016 on should and its cognates, including Dutch). The project will suggest (i) how this hypothesis can be operationalised through the study of surface changes in historical corpus data, and (ii) that in diachrony, too, a convergence of generativist and constructionalist models may be on the agenda.


Biberauer, Theresa/Roberts, Ian (2016): "Parameter Typology from a Diachronic Perspective: the Case of Conditional Inversion." In: Bidese, Ermenegildo/Cognola, Federica/Moroni, Manuela C. (eds.), Theoretical Approaches to Linguistic Variation. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: Benjamins, 259-291.

Breitbarth, Anne/Delva, Sara/Leuschner, Torsten: "A (Very) Imperfect Sandwich: English should, German sollte and Dutch mocht/moest as Grammaticalizing Markers of Conditionality." In: Journal of Germanic Linguistics 28.4, 282-316.

Diessel, Holger (2007): "Verberstkonstruktionen im Englischen und Deutschen." In: Gallmann, Peter/ Lehmann, Christian/Lühr, Rosemarie (eds.): Sprachliche Motivation. Zur Interdependenz von Inhalt und Ausdruck. Tübingen: Narr, 27-41.

Fleischer, Jürg/Simon, Horst J. (eds., 2013): Sprachwandelvergleich – Comparing Diachronies. Berlin/Boston: de Gruyter.

Iatridou, Sabine/Embick, David (1994): "Conditional Inversion." In: NELS 24, 189-203.

Kim, Jong-Bok (2011): "English Conditional Inversion: a Construction-Based Approach." In: Language and Information 15, 13-29.

König, Ekkehard (2012): "Contrastive Linguistics and Language Comparison." In: Languages in Contrast 12, 3-26.

Leuschner, Torsten (in press): "Das V1-Konditionalgefüge zwischen Phraseologie und Polito-linguistik." In: Stumpf, Sören/Filatkina, Natalia (eds.), Formelhafte Sprache in Text und Diskurs. Berlin/Boston: de Gruyter.

Leuschner, Torsten/Van den Nest, Daan (2015): "Asynchronous Grammaticalization: V1-Conditionals in Present-Day English and German." In: Languages in Contrast 15, 34-64.


Location: V/N/123

Admission: Everyone

Email: linguistics@york.ac.uk