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A Contrastive Analysis of the German Particles eben and gerade: Underlying Meaning and Usage in German Parliamentary Debate


This dissertation critically compares the two German focus particles eben and gerade. It has been repeatedly noted in the relevant literature that the two display an intriguing yet challenging near-synonymy. However, factors motivating this relationship have not been sufficiently explained to date. This study argues that the particles’ ostensible partial overlap is systematic and non-trivial in nature and that it can be explained by positing two distinct speaker motivations for uttering each particle to mark a constituent in a sentence: While the particle eben marks a constituent as conform-to-expectation, gerade marks a constituent as counter-to-expectation. Each marking is prompted by the discourse situation: If there is (extra)linguistic evidence that the interlocutor is inclined to select the same constituent as the speaker for completing a sentence, then eben is the appropriate marker. Alternatively, if no contrary evidence exists, eben may still be the appropriate marker. In the absense of favorable evidence, the speaker relies on assumptions about human communicative strategies and biases for arriving at the constituent choice matching the speaker’s and may still be prompted to utter eben. Conversely, the speaker utters gerade to mark a constituent as counter-to-expectation when there is (extra)linguistic evidence that a different constituent is more likely to be selected, or has been selected. Alternatively, if at least no (extra)linguistic evidence exists that the identical constituent is selected, assumptions about human communicative strategies and biases for arriving at a different constituent choice as the speaker’s prompt the use of gerade. The hypothesis is supported by two analyses: a minimal pair analysis employing substitution, elimination, and continuation tests as well as a synchronic, large-scale corpus-based analysis of syntactico-semantic features that frequently occur as the particles’ constituents. The former is employed to do away with compartmentalized interpretation suggestions for the particles, contaminated by adjacent elements, and suggests the underlying meanings of the particles to interact with said elements in generating the interpretations. The latter analysis presents a selection of syntactico-semantic features with which each particle frequently occurs in natural language and offers new insights on their functions based on interactions with eben and gerade.

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