Stefan Thim, 2012. Phrasal Verbs: The English Verb-Particle Construction and its History (Topics in English Linguistics 78). Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter. Pp. xiv + 302. ISBN 978-3-11- 025702-1.

Abstract : ‘How ‘English’ are the phrasal verbs really?’ and how did this highly familiar but often ill-described construction evolve ‘from its early history up to the present’? (p. 1). Thim’s book, which may be considered less as an ambitious empirical investigation of the topic than as a competent critical survey of its literature, aims at answering these two questions. That these questions are intertwined is clear from the answers they receive in this work. First, the phrasal verb is not very special to English. While the term phrasal verb ‘is rarely ever used except with respect to English’ (p. 2), Thim points out, as many scholars have done before him, that there are close parallels to be found in other languages, most notably in the other present-day Germanic languages. For instance, the German prefix verb aufgeben ‘give up’ may occur as two separate words, with the prefix auf (a cognate of up) even obligatorily split from the verb by a Direct Object noun phrase (e.g. Sie gab ihre Arbeit auf ‘She gave up her job’). Thim further cites examples of particle verbs from Danish, Dutch, Norwegian Nynorsk and Swedish, as well as from Afrikaans, Faroese, Icelandic and Yiddish, to support the claim that the English verb-particle construction is certainly not an isolated language-specific phenomenon. Second, these close parallels then help Thim answer the question about the evolution of the ‘English’ phrasal verb, whose origin can be traced back at least to Proto-Germanic. In Indo-European languages more generally, Thim reminds us, prefix verbs and particle verbs have developed out of adverb-verb sequences. And in fact, in various languages belonging to genetically more distant families, particle-like verb prefixes, or ‘preverbs’, have formed out of adverbs, typically derived themselves from previously independent relational nouns. English may look special in that particles now standardly follow the verb, leaving aside exceptional structures of the type In came a strange figure (more on which below). However, in Old English, and still in early Middle English, particles could appear in both preverbal and postverbal position, depending to some extent on clause type (subordinate or main) and finiteness, rather like the separable prefixes we encounter in Continental West-Germanic languages such as present-day Dutch or German. Thim strongly rejects the widespread misconception ‘that there must have been a ‘rise’ of the phrasal verb’ (p. 145), that is, that the phrasal verb was a Middle English or later innovation which superseded an earlier pattern, one with inseparable prefixes. Rather, Thim argues, the apparent emergence of postverbal particles in English is nothing but an epiphenomenon of independent, wellestablished changes in the language system, the most important of which is the long-term shift from basic O(bject)V(erb) order in Proto-Germanic to VO order in Modern English. In Old English, the oldest order, Object – particle – Verb, was typically found in subordinate clauses and occasionally still in main clauses. When the verb started to occupy the second position in clauses (‘V2 movement’), unstressed preverbs that had fused with the verb stem moved along with it as inseparable prefixes. By contrast, preverbs carrying stress (‘particles’) remained independent and stayed behind in final position when the verb itself moved leftward. It was first the finite verb (v) which moved (O prt V v → v O prt V), causing a clausal brace with the non-finite main verb (v … V), but the latter subsequently rejoined the finite verb in a process known as exbraciation (v O prt V → v V O prt). Extraposition of especially heavy objects may have played a role in dissolving the brace and further yielded the alternative structure with the particle immediately following the verb (v V prt O).
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English Language and Linguistics, Cambridge University Press (CUP), 2014, 18 (3), pp. 572-586. <10.1017/S1360674314000197>
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Bert Cappelle. Stefan Thim, 2012. Phrasal Verbs: The English Verb-Particle Construction and its History (Topics in English Linguistics 78). Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter. Pp. xiv + 302. ISBN 978-3-11- 025702-1.. English Language and Linguistics, Cambridge University Press (CUP), 2014, 18 (3), pp. 572-586. <10.1017/S1360674314000197>. <hal-01495702>

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