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Verb-second word order after German weil ‘because’: psycholinguistic theory from corpus-linguistic data


Kempen,  Gerard
Other Research, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Leiden University;

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Kempen, G., & Harbusch, K. (2016). Verb-second word order after German weil ‘because’: psycholinguistic theory from corpus-linguistic data. Glossa: a journal of general linguistics, 1(1): 3. doi:10.5334/gjgl.46.

In present-day spoken German, subordinate clauses introduced by the connector weil ‘because’ occur with two orders of subject, finite verb, and object(s). In addition to weil clauses with verb-final word order (“VF”; standard in subordinate clauses) one often hears weil clauses with SVO, the standard order of main clauses (“verb-second”, V2). The “weil-V2” phenomenon is restricted to sentences where the weil clause follows the main clause, and is virtually absent from formal (written, edited) German, occurring only in extemporaneous speech. Extant accounts of weil-V2 focus on the interpretation of weil-V2 clauses by the hearer, in particular on the type of discourse relation licensed by weil-V2 vs. weil-VF: causal/propositional or inferential/epistemic. Focusing instead on the production of weil clauses by the speaker, we examine a collection of about 1,000 sentences featuring a causal connector (weil, da or denn) after the main clause, all extracted from a corpus of spoken German dialogues and annotated with tags denoting major prosodic and syntactic boundaries, and various types of disfluencies (pauses, hesitations). Based on the observed frequency patterns and on known linguistic properties of the connectors, we propose that weil-V2 is caused by miscoordination between the mechanisms for lexical retrieval and grammatical encoding: Due to its high frequency, the lexical item weil is often selected prematurely, while the grammatical encoder is still working on the syntactic shape of the weil clause. Weil-V2 arises when pragmatic and processing factors drive the encoder to discontinue the current sentence, and to plan the clause following weil in the form of the main clause of an independent, new sentence. Thus, the speaker continues with a V2 clause, seemingly in violation of the VF constraint imposed by the preceding weil. We also explore implications of the model regarding the interpretation of sentences containing causal connectors.