Pia Gerhard Defended Her Thesis!

Right after Pia's defense
Right after Pia’s defense. (Photo: Sascha Bargmann, CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Pia Gerhard defended her doctoral dissertation on February 8, 2016. The thesis has the title Translating from English to
German: Structural and Stylistic Preferences.


In her thesis Pia discusses the factors that differentiate between the following English constructions:

  • Canonical word order: The book is on the table.
  • Locative inversion: On the table is the book.
  • There construction: On the table there is the book.

She furthermore contrasts her results on English with similar German constellation:

  • Canonical word order: Das Buch liegt auf dem Tisch.
  • Locative PP in the Vorfeld: Auf dem Tisch liegt das Buch.

Pia extracted 300 naturally occurring examples for each of these constructions from appropriate corpora. She then tested  whether the factors for using these constructions have to do with the length of the envolved constituents, their discourse status, or the verb.

She could show that the length of the pre-verbal constituent in contrast to the post-verbal constituent plays an important role. At the same time a post-verbal subject is never discourse-older than a pre-verbal locative PP in her data. While German and English exploit different grammatical means to achieve a similar word order, the conditions under which such word orders occur are strikingly similar.

The applied method and the results are highly interesting and Pia’s work will hopefully be used as a starting point for future investigations on the constraints on non-canonical constructions.