Prof. Dr. Walt Detmar Meurers
Raising Spirits (and assigning them case)


W. Detmar Meurers


In: Werner Abraham (Ed.), Groninger Arbeiten zur Germanistischen Linguistik, 43. 1999. pp. 173--226.


Haider (1990) pointed out that under certain conditions it is possible to realize a subject as part of a fronted non-finite verbal constituent.There are at least two questions arising from this observation. First, how does the subject included in the fronted non-finite verbal constituent receive nominative case? And second, what are the restrictions on the occurrence of subjects in that position, in particular on that of unergative subjects? In this paper we focus on the case assignment issue.


We start our investigation with the observation that for certain non-finite constructions in German it appears to be necessary to ensure non-local nominative case assignment and agreement relations. Instead of contemplating a new non-local mechanism for establishing these relations, we show that such extended relations are only possible when mediated by a lexical element, a raising predicate. This finding is supported through an empirical overview of raising constructions covering subject-to-subject raising, AcI constructions analyzed as subject-to-object raising, and stative and agentive passives analyzed either as subject-to-subject or as object-to-subject raising. Taking a closer look at sentences in which several raising constructions interact, we show that local grammatical relations like case assignment are only established on the highest subcategorization frame to which an argument could be raised. In light of the fact that these raising relations are independently motivated, the remaining question we set out to answer in the rest of this paper is how already realized subcategorization requirements can be made visible to the traditional raising relations.


In the first of the two encodings we propose as answers to this question, this is accomplished by modifying the traditional Subcategorization Principle of HPSG so as to mark realized complements rather than eliminating them from the list of subcategorization requirements. Since the subcategorization requirements corresponding to already realized arguments, the so-called `spirits', are represented in the same way as ordinary subcategorization requirements (except for their local subtype), they take part in all grammatical relations without requiring further changes. They can be raised when their verbal head is selected by a raising predicate and they can be assigned case by a version of an HPSG case theory which does not make case assignment directly dependent on argument realization. The first encoding is a general and straightforward theoretical rendition of the intuitions behind spirits. The general nature of the modified subcategorization principle treating all arguments on a par, however, has the disadvantage of eliminating the idea that selection is a local phenomenon which does not in general have access to arguments embedded inside a constituent.


As a more restrictive alternative respecting this insight, we therefore propose a revised theory introducing only spirits of subjects. Making subjects the special case is attractive, as they have independently been argued to be visible from outside the saturated verbal projection. The existence of the linguistic representation we call subject spirits thus is the result of the interaction of two independently motivated linguistic observations. First, the observation that (at least certain properties of) subjects are visible when looking at a saturated verbal projection. And second, the existence of raising verbs as a special lexical class of verbs establishing local links to the subject requirements of their verbal complements.


While the formalization we provide of the raising spirits idea can surely be improved on, the idea of subject spirits appears to be a valuable concept in that it shows that one can reduce the apparently non-local variants of case assignment and subject-verb agreement to an interaction of the traditional local variants of these relations with the raising relations introduced by a well-established lexical class of verbs.



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Bibtex entry:

    author       = {Walt Detmar Meurers},
    title        = {Raising Spirits (and assigning them case)},
    journal      = {Groninger Arbeiten zur Germanistischen Linguistik (GAGL)},
    volume       = 43, 
    pages        = {173--226},
    year         = 1999,
    editor       = {Werner Abraham},
    publisher    = {Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, German Department},
    address      = {Groningen},
    url          = {}