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Preposition stranding, sometimes called P-stranding, is the syntactic construction in which a preposition with an object occurs somewhere other than immediately next to its object. (The preposition is then described as stranded or hanging.) This construction is typologically rare, but widely found in Germanic languages, including English and the Scandinavian languages; whether or not German and Dutch exhibit legitimate preposition stranding is debatable. P-stranding is also found in languages outside the Germanic family, such as Vata and Gbadi, two languages in the Niger-Congo family, and certain dialects of French spoken in North America.
Preposition stranding in English
- In Wh-constructions, the object of the preposition is a Wh-word in deep structure but is fronted as a result of the Wh-movement. It is commonly assumed in transformational approaches to syntax that the movement of a constituent out of a phrase leaves a silent trace. In the case of Wh-movement leaving a stranded preposition, the Wh-word is fronted to the beginning of the interrogative clause, leaving a trace after the preposition:
- Whati are you talking about ___i?
- Pseudopassives are the result of the movement of the object of a preposition to fill an empty subject position for a passive verb. This phenomenon is comparable to regular passives, which are formed through the movement of the object of the verb to subject position. In pseudopassives, unlike in Wh-movement, the object of the preposition is not a Wh-word but rather a noun or noun phrase:
- This chairi was sat on ___i.
- Relative clauses in English can also exhibit preposition stranding, whether with a complementizer introducing the clause or without:
- This is the booki thati I told you about ___i.
- This is the booki I told you about ___i.
Overzealous avoidance of stranded prepositions can lead to some incredibly artificial, unnatural-sounding sentences, such as the following, which is often, possibly falsely, attributed to Winston Churchill.
- This is the sort of nonsense up with which I will not put.
Natural English occasionally uses sentences that involve many stranded prepositions in a row, such as in the following statement said by a young boy to his mother, who has just brought a book up from downstairs to read to her son. The boy wanted a different book.
- What1 did you bring that book2 that I3 didn't want to be read to___3 out of___2 up for___1?
The up in the preceding example is not actually a stranded preposition but an adverb of movement. It can of course be moved to a position earlier in the sentence, sacrificing a little of the naturalness, whereas the true stranded prepositions can really only occur at the end in all but the most formal speech. The sentence now ends in a string of four words which are all stranded prepositions.
- What1 did you bring up that book2 that I3 didn't want to be read to___3 out of___2 for___1?
Preposition stranding in French
A few non-standard dialects of French seem to have developed preposition stranding as a result of linguistic contact with English. P-stranding is found in areas where the Francophone population is under intense contact with English, including certain parts of Alberta, Northern Ontario, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Louisiana. It is found (but heavily decried) in very informal Quebec French. For example, Prince Edward Island French permits all three types of preposition stranding:
- Wh-movement: Qui-ce que tu as fait le gâteau pour?
- Whom did you bake the cake for?
- Standard French: Pour qui as-tu fait le gâteau?
- Pseudopassives: Robert a été parlé beaucoup de au meeting.
- Robert has been much talked about at the meeting.
- Standard French: On a beaucoup parlé de Robert au meeting.
- Relative clauses: Tu connais pas la fille que je te parle de.
- You don't know the girl that I'm talking to you about.
- Standard French: Tu ne connais pas la fille dont je te parle.
- Another, more widespread non-standard variant: Tu ne connais pas la fille que je te parle.
However, not all dialects of French allow P-stranding to the same extent. For instance, Ontario French restricts preposition stranding to relative clauses with certain prepositions; in most dialects, stranding is impossible with the prepositions à (to) and de (of).
A superficially similar construction is possible in standard French in cases where the object is not moved, but implied, such as Je suis pour ("I'm all for it") or Il faudra agir selon ("We'll have to act accordingly").
Preposition stranding in Dutch and German
There are two kinds of P-stranding constructions in Dutch, both of which in fact involve the stranding of postpositions.
The first case involves directional constructions. A number of common Dutch adpositions can be used either prepositionally or postpositionally, with a slight change in possible meanings; for example, Dutch in can mean either in or into when used prepositionally, but can only mean into when used postpositionally. When postpositions, such adpositions can be stranded:
- Wh-movement: Welk bosi liep hij ___i in?
- literally, Which foresti walked he ___i into?
- i.e., What forest did he walk into?
- short-distance movement: […] dat hij zo'n donker bos niet in durft te lopen […]
- literally, […] that he such-a dark forest not into dares to walk […]
- i.e., […] that he doesn't dare walk into such a dark forest […]
Another way to analyze examples like the first one above would be to allow arbitrary "postposition + verb" sequences to act as transitive separable prefix verbs (e.g. in + lopen → inlopen); but such an analysis would not be consistent with the position of in in the second example. (The postposition can also appear in the verbal prefix position: […] dat hij zo'n donker bos niet durft in te lopen […].)
The second case of P-stranding in Dutch is much more widespread. Dutch prepositions generally do not take the ordinary neuter pronouns (het, dat, wat, etc.) as objects. Instead, they become postpositional suffixes for the corresponding r-pronouns (er, daar, waar, etc.): hence, not *over het (about it), but erover (literally thereabout). However, the r-pronouns can sometimes be moved to the left, thereby stranding the postposition:
- Wij praatten er niet over.
- literally, We talked there not about.
- i.e., We weren't talking about it.
- Waar praatten wij over?
- literally, Where talked we about?
- i.e., What were we talking about?
Some regional varieties of German show the same phenomenon with da(r)- and wo(r)- forms. For example:
- Standard German requires Ich kann mir davon nichts kaufen.
- literally, I can me therefrom nothing buy.
- i.e., I can't buy anything with this.
- Some dialects permit Ich kann mir da nichts von kaufen.
- literally, I can me there-[clipped] nothing from buy.
- i.e., I can't buy anything with this.
- Alternatively, one might also say Da kann ich mir nichts von kaufen.
- literally, There-[clipped] can I me nothing from buy.
- i.e., I can't buy anything with this.
Again, although the stranded postposition has nearly the same surface distribution as a separable verbal prefix, it would not be possible to analyze these Dutch and German examples in terms of the reanalyzed verbs *overpraten and *vonkaufen, for the following reasons:
- The stranding construction is possible with prepositions that never appear as separable verbal prefixes (e.g., Dutch van, German von).
- Stranding is not possible with any kind of object besides an r-pronoun.
- ^ Roberts, Ian G. (2007). Diachronic Syntax. Oxford: Oxford UP. ISBN 0199253986. page 238
- ^ Maling, Joan; Zaenen, Annie (1985). [Expression error: Missing operand for > "Preposition-Stranding and Passive"]. Nordic Journal of Linguistics 8: 197–209. doi:10.1017/S0332586500001335. page 197.
- ^ Huddleston, Rodney; Pullum, Geoffrey K. (2005). A Student's Introduction to English Grammar. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. ISBN 0521612888. pages 137-38.
- ^ King, Ruth. 2000. The Lexical Basis of Grammatical Borrowing: a Prince Edward Island French Case Study. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. ISBN 9027237166
- ^ "Quoi ce-qu'elle a parlé about?". Language Log. October 10, 2003. http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/000032.html. Retrieved 2007-03-22.
- Further reading
- An Internet pilgrim's guide to stranded prepositions
- Haegeman, Liliane, and Jacqueline Guéron. 1999. English Grammar: a Generative Perspective. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 0631188398.
- Hornstein, Norbert, and Amy Weinberg. 1981. "Case theory and preposition stranding." Linguistic Inquiry 12:55–91. Hornstein, N.; Weinberg, A. (1 January 1981). [Expression error: Missing operand for > "Case Theory and Preposition Stranding"]. Linguistic Inquiry 12 (1). doi:10.2307/4178205. ISSN 00243892.
- Koopman, Hilda. 2000. "Prepositions, postpositions, circumpositions, and particles." In The Syntax of Specifiers and Heads, pp. 204–260. London: Routledge. ISBN 0415161835.
- van Riemsdijk, Henk. 1978. A Case Study in Syntactic Markedness: The Binding Nature of Prepositional Phrases. Dordrecht: Foris. ISBN 9031601608.
- Takami, Ken-ichi. 1992. Preposition Stranding: From Syntactic to Functional Analyses. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. ISBN 3110133768.