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Postverbal Behavior cover

Postverbal Behavior

Thomas Wasow

Compared to many languages, English has relatively fixed word order, but the ordering among phrases following the verb exhibits a good deal of variation. This monograph explores factors that influence the choice among various available orders of postverbal elements, testing hypotheses using a combination of corpus studies and psycholinguistic experiments.

The studies focus on three alternations, known among linguists as heavy NP shift ('bring a pile of books to class' ~ 'bring to class a pile of books'), the dative alternation ('give an apple to the teacher' ~ 'give the teacher an apple'), and the verb-particle construction ('pick up a pencil' ~ 'pick a pencil up'). They examine a variety of factors that might influence ordering, including: the grammatical complexity of the phrases whose order is in question; the newness of information conveyed by those phrases; how closely their meanings are connected to that of the verb; and whether one ordering has an ambiguity absent from the other.

The final two chapters raise the question of how studies of language use—corpus studies and elicitation experiments—bear on issues in linguistic theory. This leads to questions about the role of quantitative data in linguistics, and about the more standard type of data employed by many linguists, namely introspective judgments. This discussion includes responses to a number of Chomsky's arguments against the use of statistics and probability in linguistics, published over the course of almost half a century. It also addresses Chomsky's I-language/E-language distinction and his arguments for the epiphenomenal nature of E-language.

Thomas Wasow is Professor of Linguistics Philosophy, and Director of the Symbolic Systems Program at Stanford University.

Read an excerpt from this book.


  • Acknnowledgements
  • Preface
  • 1 Introduction
    • 1 An Example
    • 2 Objectives
    • 3 Some Phenomena Illustrating Order Variation
    • 4 Questions to be Addressed
    • 5 Why Only English Data?
  • 2 Grammatical Weight
    • 1 Introduction
    • 2 Proposed Definitions of Weight
    • 3 Evaluating Characterizations of Weight
    • 4 Length and Complexity
    • 5 Explaining Weight Effects
    • 6 Conclusion
    • Appendix A: Stimuli used in the questionnaire study
    • Appendix B: Verb-Particle Frequency vs. HNPS Rates
  • 3 Information Structure and Weight
    • 1 Introduction
    • 2 Characterizing the Role of Information Structure in Ordering
    • 3 Information Structure vs. Grammatical Structure
    • 4 Conclusion
  • 4 Additional Factors
    • 1 Introduction
    • 2 Semantic Connectedness
    • 3 Lexical Bias
    • 4 Ambiguity Avoidance
    • 5 Conclusion
    • Appendix A: Stimuli from questionnaire study
    • Appendix B: Stimuli from the ambiguity experiment
  • 5 Theorectical and Metatheoretical Implications
    • 1 Introduction
    • 2 Generative Alayses
    • 3 Goals of Syntactic Research
    • 4 Conclusion
  • 6 Methodological Issues
    • 1 Introduction
    • 2 Simplicity
    • 3 Generality
    • 4 Coverage
    • 5 Conclusion
  • References
  • Name Index
  • Subject Index


ISBN (Paperback): 1575864029 (9781575864020)
ISBN (Cloth): 1575864010 (9781575864013)
ISBN (Electronic): 1575869837 (9781575869834)

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