Revisiting constraints on postverbal argument coding and linearization in English goal ditransitive constructions

Article Authors: Bebwa isingoma


The current study seeks to revisit the analysis that attributes the infelicity, in all varieties of English, of strings like (1) ‘*He gave the man it’ and (2) ‘*He gave to him it’ to “the clash between the topical character of the pronoun ‘it’ and the focality associated with end position in English”, in addition to the “breach of the short-before-long principle” (Siewierska & Hollmann, 2007: 86f.) The string in (1) is a double object construction (DOC), while that in (2) is a prepositional construction (PPC). In contradistinction to the above constraints, the present study shows that the pronoun ‘it’ can felicitously appear in the end position in DOCs, as in e.g. “He gave him it” (cf. Huddlestone, 2002: 248), besides the fact that the so-called ‘short-before-long principle’ is clearly violated in that sentence without rendering it ungrammatical. Hence, end position and the “breach of the short-before-long principle” are not tenable constraints. Thus, the current study maintains that for a DOC to accommodate a personal pronoun theme, its goal argument must be realized as a lexically unstressed constituent (cf. Antilla, 2008), specifically as a pronoun (e.g. He gave him it). On the other hand, postponing a personal pronoun theme in the PPC is not possible (e.g. *He gave to him it) because a postponed theme involving non-heavy NP shift is only possible if it is a nominal constituent, since nominal constituents are both contrastively and lexically stressable (cf. Antilla et al., 2010), as in e.g. He gave to him the book – a construction that has been reported to occur in the northern dialect of British English (cf. Siewierska & Hollmann, 2007). Any attempt to postpone a personal pronoun theme will render the sentence ungrammatical (e.g. *He gave to him it), even where there is an unequivocally contrastively stressable pronoun like ‘them’ (e.g.*He gave to him them), since, while ‘them’ is no doubt contrastively stressable, it is not lexically stressable. Both lexical stressability and contrastive stressability are a requirement for this kind of postponement.

Bibliographical metadata

Journal Studies in Linguistics, Culture, and FLT
Issue No. 2
Pages 7-16
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