PB3 - Lexical conditioning of syntactic structures - clause-embedding predicates

Research topics



News: The contemporary German portion of the ZAS Database of Clause-Embedding Predicates is now available as a public beta:


Project area 3 investigates the interaction of the specific lexical requirements of clause-embedding predicates such as claimaskpromiserefuseseem and the syntactic structures of embedding found in the languages under consideration. The goal is to determine whether there are systematic and cross-linguistically stable classes of relevant predicates and to what extent the lexical semantics of these predicates determines their behavior with respect clausal embedding. We are also concerned e.g. with non-canonical embedding patterns, implicit causality and finiteness and the role of clause-embedding predicates in dynamic situations of language change and language contact.

Research topics

Generating syntactically well-formed sentences requires not only a system of syntactic rules, operations or constraints, but also a lexical component of the grammar that captures the relevant features of the predicates the syntax works with. The influence of the lexicon on the syntax reveals itself most clearly in the case of clause-embedding predicates such as claimaskpromiserefuseseem, know, believe, be glad, etc. For example, differences seem to exist between predicates with respect to selectional restrictions (believe that vs. *believe whether), and possible control readings (x promises y to come → x will come; x persuades y to come → y should come).

The leading question of PB3 is to what extent the syntax of embedded clauses is determined by the lexical specifications of clause-embedding predicates, and to what extent the lexical properties of such predicates are influenced by syntactic properties of subordination structures. It is often hard to decide which of these factors is more prominent.

Our research group is developing and utilizing a database of clause-embedding predicates in which predicates of different languages and from diachronic stages are stored. The database includes a series of corpus examples for each predicate, which are annotated for a series of properties in order to document that predicate's embedding behavior. This makes it possible to run queries in the database on the basis of predicate classes and the other coded properties of predicates and example sentences. Currently, the largest part of the database covers German, but we are expanding coverage in order to investigate cross-linguistic variation in clause-embedding predicates. The contemporary German portion of the database is now available as a public beta at http://www.owid.de/plus/zasembed2017/. This public version, and the custom-made search interface, were made possible by a collaboration with the Institut für Deutsche Sprache, who are hosting the database on their OWIDplus platform.

The area Status and realization of the sentential argument is concerned with two aspects of sentential embedding that have been previously neglected. First, by which means (Case/Adpositions) are sentential arguments licensed? Second, how are additional (sentential) arguments licensed? (cf. Frank hämmert Maria ein, dass sie sparen soll - Frank keeps dinging it into Maria that she should save money - vs. *Frank hämmert, dass Maria sparen soll - Frank hammers that Maria should save money).

In the area Non-canonical argument realization we are carrying out a comparative investigatio of predicate classes, whose propositional argument positions are not canonically specified. For example, the clausal argument of certain predicates can be realized by an adverbial: He regrets when she is sick. In other constructions, the clausal argument can be supplied by a whether-clause, even though the matrix predicate doesn't normally select for interrogatives: We can neither confirm nor deny whether the course took place.

In the area Implicit Causality, we are currently developing a semantic theory of implicit causality (IC) verbs, which include - among others - clause-embedding psych verbs. The analysis encompasses both the tendency of IC verbs to trigger explanations in subsequent discourse als well as their strong preference for anaphoric reference to only one of the two arguments in those explanations. In addition to our theoretical work, we are conducting psycholinguistic experiments to test our theory, using both online (e.g. eyetracking during reading) and offline (discourse continuation experiments) methods.

The area Finiteness and Dependency in clausal embedding examines the concept of finiteness. We are attempting to understand the different degrees of finiteness that can be discerned in different embedded clause types in terms of the extent of their dependence on elements of the matrix clause. This sort of dependency operates on at least two dimensions -- in the reference of the subject and in the temporal interpretation. We are investigating to what extent these degrees of dependency are realized in the syntactic structure, and how this interacts with the semantic properties of clause-embedding predicates.

The area Clause-embedding predicates in creole languages focuses on the possible changes in clause-embedding predicates due to language contact. Owing to the extreme circumstances under which they arose, creoles are the result of intimate language contact between a superstrate language (typically a European language) and several substrate languages (e.g. West African languages). One of the leading questions in this area will be to what extent the syntactic and semantic properties of clause-embedding predicates in creoles result from the superstrate or substrate languages, or whether these predicates developed their properties independently from general principles of syntactic computation and the syntax-semantics interface.


  • Bezhanishvili, Nick, Sebastian Löbner, Kerstin Schwabe & Luca Spada (eds.). 2011. Logic, Language, and Computation (8th International Tbilisi Symposium on Logic, Language, and Computation, TbiLLC 2009, Bakuriani, Goeorgia, September 2009, Revised Selected Papers (Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence (LNIA)). Heidelberg: Springer.
  • Downing, Laura & Barbara Stiebels. 2012. Iconicity. In Jochen Trommer (ed.), The morphology and phonology of exponence, 379-426. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Grimm, Scott. 2010. An Empirical View on Raising to Subject. In Melanie Weirich & Stefanie Jannedy (eds.), Papers from the Linguistics Laboratory. ZAS Papers in Linguistics 52, 83-109.
  • Jędrzejowski, Łukasz. 2012. What is it that keeps the rein on quotative modals so tight? A cross-linguistic perspective. In Werner Abraham & Elisabeth Leiss (eds.), Modality and Theory of Mind Elements across Languages, 425-453. Berlin: de Gruyter.
  • Kilu von Prince. 2012. Nominal Possession in Daakaka. Proceedings of AFLA 18. 156–170.
  • McFadden, Thomas. 2018. *ABA in stem-allomorphy and the emptiness of the nominative. In Pavel Caha & Guido Vanden Wyngaerd (eds.), Glossa: a journal of general linguistics; Special collection on *ABA; 3(1), 8, 1-36.
  • McFadden, Thomas. 2015. Preverbal ge- in Old and Middle English. In André Meinunger (ed.), Byproducts and side effects: Nebenprodukte und Nebeneffekte (ZAS Papers in Linguistics 58), 15-48.
  • McFadden, Thomas. 2014. On subject reference and the cartography of clause types: A commentary on the paper by Biswas. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 32. 115-136.
  • McFadden, Thomas & Sandhya Sundaresan. 2018. Reducing pro and PRO to a single source. The Linguistic Review 35(3). 463–518.
  • McFadden, Thomas & Sandhya Sundaresan. 2014. Finiteness in South Asian languages: an introduction. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 32. 1-28.
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  • Schwabe, Kerstin. 2015. On the licensing of argument conditionals. In Martin Aher, Emil Jerabek, Daniel Hole & Clemens Kupke (eds.), Logic, Language and Computation. 10th International Tbilisi Symposium TbiLLC 2013, 190-209. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.
  • Schwabe, Kerstin. 2013. Eine uniforme Analyse sententialer Proformen im Deutschen. Deutsche Sprache 41. 142-164.
  • Schwabe, Kerstin. 2012. The German Sentential Proform 'es' in All-Focus Sentences. In Johan Brandtler, David Hakansson, Stefan Huber & Eva Klingvall (eds.), Discourse & Grammar (A Festschrift in Honor of Valéria Molnár), 459-474. Lund: Lund University.
  • Schwabe, Kerstin & Robert Fittler. 2014. Über semantische Konsistenzbedingungen deutscher Matrixprädikate. Teil 1. Sprachtheorie und germanistische Linguistik 24.1. 45-75.
  • Schwabe, Kerstin & Robert Fittler. 2014. Über semantische Konsistenzbedingungen deutscher Matrixprädikate. Teil 2. Sprachtheorie und germanistische Linguistik 24.2. 123-150.
  • Schwabe, Kerstin & Robert Fittler. 2009. Semantic characterizations of German question-embedding predicates. In Peter Bosch, David Gabelaia & Jérôme Lang (eds.), Logic, language, and computation: 7th international Tbilisi symposium on logic, language, and computation, TbiLLC 2007, Tbilisi, Georgia, October 1-5, 2007, revised selected papers (Lectures Notes in Artificial Intelligence 5422), 229-241. Berlin: Springer.
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  • 11.-12.05.2015:
    Workshop on Aspect in Embedded Clauses, ZAS (zusammen mit PB3).
  • 20.09.2013:
    Workshop 'Infinitives at the Syntax-Semantics Interface: A Diachronic Perspective'. 46th Annual Meeting of the Societas Linguistica Europaea, Split University, Croatia.
  • 05.08.2013:
    Workshop 'New Insights into the Syntax and Semantics of Complementation'. 21st International Conference on Historical Linguistics, University of Oslo.
  • 13.-14.04.2012:
    (Mis)matches in clause linkage, ZAS (zusammen mit PB3).
  • 23.- 25.02.2011:
    AG 'Inner-sentential propositional pro-forms: syntactic properties and interpretative effects'. DGfS-Jahrestagung, U Göttingen.
  • 04. - 06.02.2010:
    Syntax und Semantik satzeinbettender Prädikate im Deutschen (AG auf der 4. Tagung Deutsche Sprachwissenschaft in Italien in Rom; geleitet von André Meinunger (PB4) & Kerstin Schwabe (PB3))
  • 04. - 06.03.2009:
    Linking of sentential arguments (AG auf der DGfS-Jahrestagung in Osnabrück, geleitet von Barbara Stiebels & Tonjes Veenstra)
  • 12. - 13.12.2008:
    Syntax under lexical rule: the role of clause-embedding predicates
  • 02.01.2008:
    Questions and related issues