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9.1.The overall organization of the clause

The aim of this section is to provide a bird's eye view of the organization of the clause in Standard Dutch and to discuss some of the movements involved in the derivation of the surface forms in actual utterances. Roughly speaking, the clause consists of two main parts, which will be referred to as the lexical and the functional domain. The lexical domain consists of the main verb and its arguments as well as certain types of modifiers (such as manner adverbs), which together form a proposition. In (5a), for example, the verb kopen'to buy' takes a direct object as its complement and is subsequently modified by the manner adverb snel'quickly', and the resulting complex predicate is finally predicated of the noun phrase Jan. The complex phrase thus formed expresses the proposition that can be represented by means of the logical formula in (5b).

a. [Jan [snel [het boek kopen]]]
  Jan  quickly   the book  buy
b. buy quickly (Jan, the book)

Infinitival clauses such as (5a) are normally not acceptable as independent sentences of Dutch, although they do occur in the special context exemplified in (6b), in which participant B expresses surprise about something said by participant A.

a. Jan zal straks snel een boek kopen.
participant A
  Jan will  later  quickly  a book  buy
  'Jan will quickly buy a book later.'
b. Jan/Hij snel een boek kopen? Niet te geloven!
participant B
  Jan/he  quickly  a book  buy  not  to believe
  'Jan/Him buying a book? I canʼt believe it!'

That structures such as (5a) do not normally represent acceptable sentences does not imply that the string as such is not syntactically well-formed. This will be clear from the fact that (5a) can be used as, e.g., the complement of the permissive verb laten'to let' in (7a). The structure as a whole has the propositional content in (7b), in which the proposition in (5b) is embedded in a larger proposition.

a. Marie liet [Jan [snel [het boek kopen]]]
  Marie  let   Jan  quickly   the book  buy
  'Marie let Jan buy the book quickly.'
b. letpermission (Marie, buy quickly (Jan, the book))

The acceptability of (7a) shows that unacceptability of (5a) as independent utterance cannot be attributed to the string Jan snel het boek kopen as such, but must be attributed to other factor(s). More specifically, the contrast between (5a) and (7a) shows that, although propositions as such are well-formed expressions of artificial languages like predicate calculus, they must be supplemented with additional information in order to be usable as sentences in natural languages. One such piece of information is tense: in order to be usable as a sentence, a proposition must be situated in time, as in (8).

a. Jan kooptpresent snel het boek.
  Jan buys  quickly  the book
  'Jan quickly buys the book.'
b. Jan kochtpast snel het boek.
  Jan bought  quickly  the book
  'Jan quickly bought the book.'

Given that the infinitival clause Jan snel het boek kopen can be used in (7a), in which the temporal information is expressed by the past tense on the verb form liet'let', we may conclude that this information is external to the lexical domain. For this reason it has been proposed that the lexical domain of the verb is embedded in a larger functional domain. The latter domain contains not only temporal information but also information about the illocutionary force of the expression; for example, it provides an answer to the question as to whether we are dealing with an assertion or with a question. In finite embedded clauses this information is often provided by complementizers: the complementizer dat'that' is used for embedded declarative clauses, whereas of'whether' is used for embedded questions.

a. Marie vertelde [dat Jan ziek is].
embedded declarative clause
  Marie told that  Jan ill  is
  'Marie said that Jan is ill.'
b. Marie vroeg [of Jan ziek is].
embedded interrogative clause
  Marie asked  whether  Jan ill  is
  'Marie asked whether Jan is ill.'

Given that complementizers are words normally, it has been claimed that they occupy head positions in the functional domain of the clause. A similar line of reasoning claims that the temporal information of the clause is introduced as a temporal head in the functional domain of the clause. If correct, this would lead us to the schematic representation of the clause in (10), in which C stands for the head position of the complementizer, T for the head position containing the tense features of the finite verb, and X for other functional heads in the clausal domain (if any). Like lexical heads such as V, functional heads are taken to project and thus form a CP, a TP, and an XP. The projections of V (as well as the other lexical categories N, A and P) and functional heads will be referred to as lexical and functional projections, respectively. When referring to both the lexical and the functional domain we will use the term extended projection of the lexical head; see Grimshaw (1991) for the origin of this notion.


The dots in structure (10) are positions allocated to specific clausal elements (subject, object, wh-phrase, etc.), which appear as so-called specifiers of the lexical and functional heads. These specifiers may be base-positions, in which certain phrases are lexically inserted, or derived positions, to which certain phrases are moved from other positions in the course of the derivation.
      Although the hierarchical structure in (10) is not accepted in all quarters of linguistics, it is quite generally adopted among generative linguists as universally valid for natural language: specific languages are derived by means of language-specific and sometimes construction-specific restrictions on the position occupied by the verb in the output of the grammar (C, T, X or V), and something similar holds for the position of the arguments and modifiers of the clause. This does not alter the fact, of course, that postulating a structure like the one in (10) and concomitant movements are highly theory-internal. However, readers who object to the movement metaphor from generative grammar may think of structure (10) as the template in (11), in which the positions C, T, X and V indicate potential positions for the expression of the verb and in which the dots are designated positions for the expression of certain phrasal constituents (XPs) of the clause. The movements postulated in generative grammar can then be thought of as language- and construction-specific expression rules determining in which positions of the universal template the verb(s) and the phrasal constituents of the clause surface. Templates such as (11) are also known from theoretical frameworks that do not postulate movement; see, e.g., the abstract term patroon (pattern) in Paardekooper (1960) or the term functional pattern in Dik (1978).


We want to emphasize again that we are not claiming that (10) and (11) exhaust the structural description of the clause; it may well be that the lexical and the functional domain contain more heads than indicated here. Nor is it a priori clear that the lexical and the functional information are as neatly separated as suggested by (10) and (11); it might well be the case that these types of information are intermingled in a more intricate manner. This section will merely use structure (10) to provide a global description of the data that have been prominent in the discussion on clause structure of Dutch in the generative literature over the last four decades (and which, in our view, should be accounted for in any theory) in order to provide the reader with some basic information that may be helpful in reading the present chapter. The reader will note in the following discussions that despite 50 years of intensive generative research many issues concerning clause structure are still unresolved and give rise to a continuing debate.

  • Dik, Simon C1978Functional grammarDordrechtForis Publications
  • Grimshaw, Jane1991Extended projections
  • Paardekooper, P.C1960Inleiding tot de ABN-syntaksisDen BoschL.C.G.Malmberg
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