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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Split Pronominal Adverbs in Dutch: Searching for Meaning in what is Considered Meaningless

  • Author(s): de Carlo, Nickolas Sebastiano
  • Advisor(s): Kirsner, Robert S
  • et al.

Pure synonymy is a myth. This is true in the lexicon of a language as well as its grammar. As such, why do grammars of Dutch label the following two forms below as synonymous?

Unsplit: Daarmee heb ik een probleem.

Therewith have I a problem.

Split: Daar heb ik een probleem mee.

There have I a problem with.

"I have a problem with that."

Calling these two forms above "the same" is an oversimplification. In my dissertation, Itest for difference in meaning between the forms and the motivation to choose one form over the other. To accomplish this goal, Iuse a corpus-based approach integrated with tests from Construction Grammar. We analyze these data in R (a statistics computing language) and Excel. This dissertation includes four tests, all complete. Preliminary findings underline a difference in meaning and provide motivation for the two forms. This is significant, as the current state of research suggests no real difference or meaning. Only one study, Honselaar (1994), discusses any possible variation in meaning. Additionally, emerging studies in linguistics frequently utilize larger data sets. This dissertation supports the shift toward more quantifiable data coupled with trained qualitative analysis. The quantifiable tests show a meaning difference, questioning the traditional analysis. Unsplit forms exhibit a shift in discourse, and split show continuation thereof.

Regarding motivation for the two forms, the data show clauses with verbs of low use frequency tend to be unsplit, suggesting that higher frequency verbs are more likely to occur with split forms. Frequency tends to be understood and decoded quicker (Fenk-Oczlon, 2001), and thus the listener/reader is generally able to parse the second half of the pronominal adverb, namely the preposition, before its utterance. This suggests that it would be easier to continue forward in the discourse if the form is split. These findings underline the growing need for further development of corpus-based linguistics studies. They welcome the movement of linguistics toward more empirical approaches to language.

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