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Abstract Panther & Köpcke

Conceptual and Grammatical Agreement in German and English

Both German and English exhibit contrasts between conceptual (also called notional or pragmatic) agreement and grammatical agreement. We view agreement in a broad sense as a relation of dependence between two linguistic units, where one unit requires the occurrence of another unit. We consider three kinds of agreement: (i) number agreement (Bock et al. 2006); (ii) gender agreement (Köpcke & Zubin 2003); and (iii) metonymic agreement (Ruiz de Mendoza Ibáñez & Díez Velasco 2004; Stirling 1996). Agreement can occur within a phrasal constituent (e.g. a noun phrase), within a clause and across clauses (i.e. on the discourse level).

Systematic differences exist between English and German with regard to conceptual agreement. Conceptual number agreement is possible in English but not in German (*Die königliche Familie sind in Schottland). Natural gender agreement is found in German (although generally condemned by prescriptivists) alongside grammatical agreement, but in Standard English only natural gender agreement seems possible (Recently, there was a girl; she […]). English also has gender agreement in cases of metonymy (The ham sandwich didn’t pay his check), but such natural-gender based metonymies seem less felicitous if not impossible in German (*Die Kartoffelsuppe hat seine Rechnung nicht bezahlt).

Our aim is to work out a systematic comparison of English and German with regard to the three agreement patterns within syntactic phrases, within the clause, and across clauses. Methodologically, we will rely on acceptability tests and naturally occurring corpus data.



Bock, Kathryn et al. 2006. Number agreement in British and American English: Disagreeing to agree collectively. Language 82: 64–113.

Köpcke, Klaus-Michael and David Zubin. 2003. Metonymic pathways to neuter-gender human nominals in German. In: Panther, Klaus-Uwe and Linda L. Thornburg, eds. Metonymy and Pragmatic Inferencing (Pragmatics & Beyond New Series 113), 149–166. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: Benjamins.

Ruiz de Mendoza Ibáñez, Francisco J. and Olga I. Díez Velasco. 2004. Metonymic motivation in anaphoric references. In: Radden, Günter and Klaus-Uwe Panther, eds. Studies in Linguistic Motivation (Cognitive Linguistics Research 28), 293–320. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Stirling, Lesley. 1996. Metonymy and anaphora. Belgian Journal of Linguistics10