Argument marking with prepositions in German : a constructional approach to 'auf' ('on')



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Argument marking prepositions in German are part of more complex structures referred to here as verb-preposition combinations (verb-PPs), e.g. warten auf ('to wait for') and pochen auf ('to insist on'). The preposition auf ('on') attaches to a wide range of verbs to form such combinations in which auf encodes different semantic relations that elude concrete description. Nevertheless, previous research in valency theory and related approaches could identify patterns in the distribution of verb-PP[subscript 'auf'] combinations (Eroms 1981, 1991, Lerot 1982, Bouillon 1984, Domínguez Vázquez 2005), based on perceived similarities in the meaning of the governing verbs. Cognitive linguistics provides insights into seemingly opaque senses of prepositions by analyzing them as motivated by metaphorical meaning extension (Brugman 1988, Lakoff 1987, Meex 2001, Liamkina 2007). Finally, generative approaches scrutinize the semantic relationships between verbs and their PP-arguments and systematize them under the concept of semantic roles (Fillmore 1968, Rauh 1993). However, none of these approaches can fully account for the distribution of verb-PPauf combinations in German. This dissertation proposes a novel approach towards identifying and analyzing the distributional patterns of verb-PP[subscript 'auf'] combinations by applying insights from Frame Semantics (Fillmore 1982, 1985) and Construction Grammar (Goldberg 1995, 2006). Goldberg's theory of argument structure constructions already served as a model for analyzing auf as a partially schematic argument structure construction encoding the meaning 'future orientation/future event' (Rostila 2007). Based on a large amount of corpus data, I show that such generalizing accounts are better arrived at by employing a usage-based bottom-up approach to verb-PP[subscript 'auf'] combinations. I argue that the detailed semantic and syntactic information provided by the lexical database FrameNet for each lexical unit can be used to identify distributional patterns and to describe them in detail. Furthermore, I argue that integrating the verb-PP[subscript 'auf'] combinations and the frames they evoke into a hierarchical lexical-constructional network allows us to discover substantiated generalizations about these combinations while at the same time preserving the description of their idiosyncratic features.