Case alternation in present-day German. A corpus-based analysis of the conditions of use of accusative and dative with non-transparent two-way prepositional verbs

Start - End 
2012 - 2016 (ongoing)
Department of Linguistics
Research Focus 
Research Period 
Research Region 
Research Language 
Additional tags 
Case system
Corpus linguistics
Syntax and semantics
Language variation
Construction grammar
Argument structure



This project aims to explore the motivations behind the case alternation between accusative (ACC) and dative (DAT) after two-way prepositions in present-day German (PDG). Special attention goes to those instances that do not conform to the traditional, standard explanation of the case alternation. In the traditional explanation, which has a long history in Latin-based school grammar, ACC is associated with ‘motion’ and DAT with a ‘static’ event. However, corpus explorations reveal that there are numerous deviations from this ‘rule’ in PDG, compare, e.g., the transparent case alternation in Er springt auf den/dem Tisch (‘he jumps onto/on the table’) with the non-transparent alternation in ein Kind in die/der Familie aufnehmen (‘adopt a child into the family’). This finding has not yet been confronted with systematic corpus analysis, nor has an alternative approach been formulated that is able to explain all the instances of the ACC/DAT alternation. This is remarkable, given its high occurrence in language use and its importance for second language acquisition.

The project examines the ACC/DAT alternation from a constructionist point of view, considering both cases as parts of alternating constructions with semantic functions in their own right, and with a focus on the interplay between the constructions and the semantic and morphosyntactic properties of the lexical items. This innovative approach widens the scope beyond traditional accounts, which generally take only the combination of the preposition and the prepositional object into account, and focuses on the entire argument structure constructions in relation to the lexical items instantiating them. Following the recent line of research in the construction-based approach, the project will be strongly corpus-based and build on quantitative methods.



Phd Student(s)