Relational adjectives (such as richterliche Anordnung ’judicial fiat’, kindliches Spielen ‘children’s playing’) are very frequent in present-day German and in many other languages (especially Romance). However, nothing is known about their historical development in German. Surprisingly, the emergence of relational adjectives, i.e. their morphosyntactic development, their origin and even their morpho-syntactic “raison d’etre”, have never been comprehensively investigated for German although quality adjectives (as in essbarer Pilz ‘edible mushroom’ > essbar ‘eatable’) are very well described in the historical morphology of German.

The project “Relational Adjectives in the History of German” (RAHiG), funded by the Austrian Science Fund FWF (principal investigator: PD Dr. Martina Werner), aims to fill this research gap with respect to the emergence, the diachronic necessity, and the morphosyntactic development of relational adjectives in German by taking into account the form and semantics of the nominal phrase and especially the role of argument structure (cf. studentisches Lernen ‘student-RA learning’ > Student has the subject-role).

Since the impact of argument structure and the head noun on the existence of relational adjectives has already been proven to hold crosslinguistically and also for present-day German, this makes this dimension a perfect starting point for further investigation of the diachrony of German, especially because it has been shown that relational adjectives preferentially co-occur with nominalizations and because, sometimes, a rivalry between phrases containing a relational adjective (such as kulturelle Unterstützung ‘cultural support’) and a compound noun (such as Kulturunterstützung lit. ‘culture support’) can be observed in present-day German.

Methodologically, the project comprises theoretical and empirical research by combining corpus-based studies on the (historical) stages of German and psycholinguistic experiments on present-day German in order to better understand the principles and constraints that are at play in the emergence and development of relational adjectives operating at the interface of morphology and syntax.

Project duration

01 August 2019 - ongoing

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