Reviewed by Wolfgang Schulze, University of Munich
Probably the most interesting formation of analytic tense in German is the werden ‘will’ plus infinitive construction to encode the future tense. Sabine Krämer uses this construction to demonstrate how a synchronic analysis can contribute to the diachronic exploration of a construction. She argues for the primacy of comprehensive synchronic descriptions in diachronic studies, which can provide both an adequate formal representation and a functional explanation of the actual use of a construction. Accordingly, this book serves two purposes: first, it addresses questions of methodology, and second, it offers a new proposal to describe the grammaticalization of the German werden plus infinitive construction.
This book is the printed version of K’s 2004 doctoral dissertation (Humboldt University, Berlin). In the introduction (1–3), K briefly outlines her methodology, stressing the need for a formal approach to fully grasp the functional scope of constructional patterns. In Ch. 1, ‘Syntax und Semantik der Konstruktion werden + Infinitiv im Neuhochdeutschen’ (4–71), K investigates the future and modal readings of this construction, arguing that the modal value cannot be accounted for by referring to superficially analogous modal constructions such as müssen ‘must’ or können ‘can’ plus infinitive. Likewise, she rejects the assumption that the modal reading is more general. Instead, K argues that, from a synchronic perspective, the two readings reflect two different syntactic structures. These two structures are then comprehensively described in terms of formal syntax.
The two remaining chapters deal with the diachronics of the werden plus infinitive construction. Ch. 3 (72–89) presents a critical summary of previous proposals to explain its emergence. In Ch. 4, ‘Diachrone Entwicklung der Konstruktion werden + Infinitive: Ein alternativer Vorschlag’, (90–136), K refers to grammaticalization, analogy, and reanalysis to develop a new hypothesis. She argues that werden plus infinitive began as a participle-based construction (werden plus present participle), and, in analogy with Middle High German beginnen plus infinitive ‘start to X’, the present participle was later replaced by the infinitive. In a second step, the emerging copula construction was reanalyzed as a periphrastic future, which was later reanalyzed again to yield a modal reading (via some kind of covert inferential strategy).
K’s book is a pleasure to read. It nicely illustrates the explanatory power of synchronic data to account for diachronic processes. Although it neglects typological generalizations and hence is perhaps a bit too strongly biased towards formal syntax, this volume is an example of excellent linguistic argumentation.