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Peter Auer

Pre- and post-positioning of wenn-clauses in spoken and written German

This paper is concerned with the distinction between pre- and postpositioned (initial and final) wenn-clauses in German, and with the distinction between written and spoken language. A simple cross-tabulation of the two features [spoken/written] and [pre-/ postpositioned] (section 3) shows that initial wenn-clauses are preferred in spoken German, but final wenn-clauses are preferred in written German. These findings are in need of an explanation, which will be given in sections 4 and 5. Section 2 sketches the main characteristics of German wenn-clauses as compared to English conditional (if-) clauses.

The findings and discussions in this paper are corpus-based. They are partly quantitative, partly qualitative. With respect to both dimensions, the claim is that a full understanding of the syntax of (particularly) spoken language eludes the possibilities of a purely introspective methodology. Of course, no (quantitative or qualitative) corpus-based investigation can do without a strong reliance on the analyst's knowledge (intuition') about the language being researched; in fact, finding valid generalizations always involves Gedankenexperimente playing with structural changes in and recontextualizations of the examples' found to be used by the informants.

On the other hand, not even the empirical starting point of the present investigation (i.e., the (differing) preferences of spoken and written language for post- and prepositioning) is available to a purely introspective approach, since it is of a quantitative kind. In order to reach an explanation of these findings, this quantiative analysis has to be complemented by an in-depth analysis of individual cases of usage. Such an analysis will pay attention (a) to the in-time emergence of syntactic patterns, including the details of their delivery such as hesitations, reformulations, break-offs, etc., and (b) to the interactional aspects of this emergence, including hearer feedback (or lack of it) and sequential placement. In this respect, spoken language research can profit in important ways from conversation analysis.

 Published as:
Auer, Peter (2000). Pre- and post-positioning of wenn-clauses in spoken and written German. In: E. Couper-Kuhlen & B. Kortmann, eds., Cause - Condition - Concession - Contrast. Cognitive and Discourse Perspectives. Berlin: de Gruyter, 173-204.


InLiSt No.14
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