Germanic Languages | Intro: Structure of Modern German
G451 | 25464 | Sprouse
G451: Introduction to the Structure of Modern German (3 cr.)
Rex A. Sprouse
Counts toward COAS Distribution Requirement in NMMC/Mathematical
Sciences and Cognition or Natural Sciences and Mathematics
The language of instruction will be German.
The primary goal of the course is to introduce you to the area of
linguistics known as syntax with particular reference to the syntactic
structure of Modern Standard German. In the process, you should gain a
sense of what it is like to develop a formal model of (a significant
fragment of) the knowledge that is represented in the brains/minds of
native speakers of a given natural language (in our case, Modern
Standard German) through formulating, testing, and revising explicit
hypotheses about this mentally represented grammatical knowledge. You
should also significantly extend your conscious knowledge of various
aspects of German grammar.
After reviewing some basics of the forms of nouns, verbs, adjectives,
and articles at the very beginning of the course, we will consider the
basic architecture of German clauses, with special attention to verb
placement and the effects of different orders of other elements within
We will then turn to similarities and differences between German and
English in the realm of the realization of argument structure and to
alternations within German in this realm. For example, in English you
can “answer a person” or “answer a question”, but you cannot “answer a
person her question”—“answering a person’s question” does not
necessarily imply that you “answer the person” (who could be absent
when you answer her question). In German, however, we find “einer
Person (DATIV!) antworten” or “auf eine Frage antworten”. Neither
“eine Person (AKKUSATIV) antworten” nor “eine Frage antworten” is
possible, but “einer Person auf ihre Frage antworten” is possible.
Finally, it is possible to have “eine Frage beantworten”. We will seek
to identity and characterize systematic differences between English
and German as well as systematic alternations within German, including
the active/passive alternation, the causative/accusative alternation,
the dative alternation, the locative alternation, and the genitive/von
alternation. It is not assumed that you are already familiar with
these phenomena when you enter the course. Rather, it is expected that
you will learn about them in the context of the course. No previous
background in linguistics is assumed.
There will be no textbook. The course is based on the “discovery
approach.” Instructor-generated handouts will supply the raw data that
we will need. Regular class participation is absolutely crucial to
your success and enjoyment in this course.
Grades will be based on class participation (30%); 5 written
assignments (50%); final exam (20%).