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Abstract Colleman

Semantic determinants of the Dutch Dative alternation: a corpus-based study

Semantic studies of the Dative alternation – or of other verb pattern alternations, for that matter – often rely on observations about verb disposition: the preference of verbs with particular lexical semantic characteristics for one of the two "competing" constructions is taken as a clue toward the semantic differences between both constructions. For instance, with regard to the English Dative alternation, it has been observed that verbs of refusal such as deny and refuse are perfectly acceptable in the ditransitive construction but much less so in the so-called prepositional-dative (compare They refused the convict a last cigarette to ?They refused a last cigarette to the convict), and this contrast has been presented as evidence for the hypothesis that the prepositional-dative highlights the actual movement of the theme toward the receiver (see Goldberg 1992, among others).

In this paper, I will present the results of a corpus-based study of verb disposition in the Dutch Dative alternation, i.e. the variation between the ditransitive construction in (1) and its prepositional-dative paraphrase with the locative preposition aan in (2).

(1) Jan geeft Piet een boek.

'John gives Pete a book'

(2) Jan geeft een boek aan Piet.

'John gives a book to Pete'

On the basis of Gries & Stefanowitsch's (2004) method of "distinctive collexeme analysis", I will identify the verbs with a statistically significant preference for the ditransitive and those with a statistically significant preference for the prepositional-dative in a 9,5 million word corpus of contemporary newspaper language. Previous studies of the Dative alternation are usually based exclusively on the linguist's own intuitions, and consequently run the risk of misjudging the possibilities of certain verbs and/or of overlooking counterexamples to the advanced semantic generalizations. The results of this corpus-based test, however, provide the basis for a number of empirically valid generalizations about the semantic parameters driving the Dative alternation in Dutch. It can be observed, for instance, that particle verbs of the type afstaan ('cede'), overdragen ('pass on'), uitlenen 'lend (out)', etc., show a strong preference for the aan-construction in real language, regardless of whether or not they are used to encode an actual material transfer. Since these verbs lexically highlight the role of the agent as the original possessor of the patient, this observation supports the hypothesis that the Dutch prepositional-dative brings the (changing) relation between agent and patient to the fore. I will discuss a number of such semantic generalizations in my paper. Some of these findings suggest that the Dative alternations of English and Dutch are less similar than one might suppose at first sight.



Goldberg, A.E. (1992), 'The inherent semantics of argument structure: The case of the English ditransitive', in: Cognitive Linguistics 3, 37-74.

Gries, S. Th. & A. Stefanowitsch (2004), 'Extending Collostructional Analysis: a corpus-based perspective on "alternations"', in: International Journal of Corpus Linguistics 9, 97-129.