7. The ditransitive alternation in the history of German: the case of verkaufen (‘sell’)

in The Diachrony of Ditransitives


This chapter discusses the development of the ditransitive alternation with the verb verkaufen (‘sell’) in the history of New High German (1650-present) from a probabilistic point of view. The alternation concerns the constructional variation between the “Indirect Object Construction” (IOC) with dative case (e.g. der Frau ‘the woman’) and the “Prepositional Object Construction” (POC) (e.g. an die Frau ‘to the woman’). A random sample of 700 IOC and 741 POC attestations extracted from the HIST-Archiv, the Deutsches Textarchiv (1650-1899) and the Kernkorpus (1900-1999) was annotated for sixteen variables. The study focuses on (i) the relative proportions of both constructions over time, (ii) constituent order preferences of THEME and RECIPIENT and (iii) potentially motivating factors for the alternation. The corpus analysis reveals that POC imposes itself in the course of the 18th century, followed by a further gradual increase of the construction in the 19th century. Conversely, IOC with THEME-RECIPIENT order gradually falls into disuse. A logistic regression analysis provides evidence for the effect of ten variables on the alternation. A comparison with findings from previous studies of the corresponding alternation in English and Dutch reveals many similarities in the history of the three languages, but also a number of differences.

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