The Meaning and Distribution of English and German to-infinitive Complement Constructions: A Cognitive Approach to a Contrastive Analysis
This study is dealing with English to-infinitive constructions and German infinitive constructions introduced by zu acting as non-finite complements of the verb in complex sentences such as John intends to buy a new house or John beabsichtigt, ein neues Haus zu kaufen.
The two constructions show a high degree of formal similarity in English and German, but, nevertheless, on closer inspection, display subtle differences in their meaning and distribution. Both types of construction play a central role in non-finite verb complementation in English and German. They have been the subject of a range contrastive analyses (Mair 1984, 1990, 1995, Hawkins 1985, Rohdenburg 1990 und 1992), which mainly focused on their morphological and structural characteristics together with their related capacities to enter into different types of syntactic control mechanisms allowing for the recognition and determination of their non-overtly realized subjects. With the raise of a typologically based contrastive analysis in the 1980s remarkable progress has been made in the description of the syntactic properties of to-infinitive constructions in both languages. The greater syntactic flexibility of English to-infinitive constructions has been successfully explained against the background of the higher mobility of syntactic arguments in English, which can easily cross clause boundaries and achieve syntactic and semantic integration of elementary clauses by argument sharing (Mair 1975 and Kortmann 1998). However, syntactic and semantic control configurations and the loose-fit effects connected with them are but one aspect of the meaning and distribution of English and German to-infinitive constructions.
Less prominence has so far been given to a detailed contrastive description of a shared overall category-meaning in the sense of Langacker’s concept of a ‘schematic meaning’ as the starting point or ‘tertium comparationis’ of a contrastive analysis. It would have to go beyond clause-related aspects of the meaning of both structures and give further insides into the precise range of meanings captured by both constructions and their potential for being combined with different ranges of predicate constructions.
This is what the present study is aiming at. In a first step the study suggests ‘regional and relational profiling’ as candidate for a highly abstract, general, category-wide meaning of German to-infinitive constructions, which is based on a combination of Langacker’s concept of ‘regional and relational profiling’ and Lyons’ model of ‘cognitive entities’ into a new semantic model of the description of English complement constructions (Kleinke 2002). In a second step English and German to-infinitive constructions will be compared with regard to their respective regional and relational profiling status and will be placed on an entity-scale acting as the starting point for more detailed semantic and distributional analyses of both structures.