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Danish Verb Phrase Anaphora

The Danish Verb Phrase Anaphora project centers on two common, but understudied constructions involving anaphoric verb phrases in Danish: VP ellipsis (as in English Sarah read the paper and I will too) and VP pronominalization (similar, but not identical to, English Sarah read the paper and I will do so/it too). From a language-internal perspective, what makes these Danish constructions particularly interesting is that they interact in non-trivial ways with two fundamental principles of Danish clause structure, namely the positioning of the finite verb in second position (so-called verb second) and the fronting of some other constituent to clause-initial position. While these word order principles have been intensely studied in the literature, there is no agreement as their motivation or the grammatical mechanisms responsible for them. The verb phrase anaphora constructions promise to shed new light on both of these issues. From a theoretical perspective, the Danish VP ellipsis construction is important because VP ellipsis has been argued on theoretical grounds to not exist in a verb second language, hence the mere fact that it is found in Danish is of theoretical significance. The Danish VP pronominalization construction is likewise of broader interest, because it appears to instantiate a category in the taxonomy of anaphora (that of overt surface anaphora) whose existence has so far lacked solid empirical verification. We began the project in the summer of 2005 and our research so far has produced several conference papers and invited presentations and two articles.

The project draws on three sources of data: grammaticality judgements by native speakers on constructed examples, attested examples gathered from Danish print media, and data from electronic corpora. To examine this steadily growing data set more effectively, we have created an electronic database that allows for annotation and searching. The database offers a practical framework for soliciting and storing a fourth type of data. Impressionistically, VP ellipsis and VP pronominalization appear to be in overlapping, but distinct, distribution in Danish. For instance, VP pronominalization occurs more freely overall, but there are certain kinds of embedded clauses where only VP ellipsis is possible. To investigate this issue further, we supplement each attested example with speaker judgments on whether the other construction is also possible in that particular context. To our knowledge, such data has not been systematically collected previously for verb phrase anaphora in any language, but it is exactly the kind of data that can provide insight into the details of the distribution of each construction and, potentially, into general principles governing the distribution of near-identical linguistic expressions.

Currently, the database contains about 500 examples of VP ellipsis and VP pronominalization. The database also includes a small number of examples of VP topicalization and other constructions that bear a similarity to ellipsis and pronominalization. If you are interested in using the database, please contact us to obtain a password. A detailed description of the database, its structure, and how to search it can be found here.


Michael Houser
Graduate Student
mhouser at berkeley dot edu

Line Mikkelsen
mikkelsen at berkeley dot edu

Maziar Toosarvandani
Graduate Student
mtoosarvandani at berkeley dot edu

Ange Strom-Weber (inactive)