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4.2 Object oriented to-infinitives with clause union

To-infinitives can either have an active or a passive interpretation. The passive interpretation, or object-oriented reading, is characteristically found in case the to-infinitive is selected by the verb weze ‘to be’. Two examples are given below:

Dät is nit uuttoutoanken.
that is not out.to.think
It can hardly be imagined.
Fon ju Siede is niks tou ferwachtjen.
of her side is nothing to expect
From her side, nothing is to be expected.

The object of the main verb, the to-infinitive, is expressed as the subject of the tensed auxiliary. Put differently, the object thematic role of the to-infinitive is predicated of the subject of the tensed verb. From a generative point of view, the subject of the infinitive is moved into the structural subject position of the auxiliary. We can refer to these infinitives as object oriented infinitives. The construction involves a manipulation of the object argument of the to-infinitive, specifically, its realisation in the structural subject position of the selecting auxiliary. This process can be formalised as movement, as predication, and so on. We may also refer to this type of infinitive as a small infinitive, because the object of the infinitive cannot be expressed, unless there is a selecting auxiliary.

This is discussed in more detail in the sections below.

[+]1. The copula of being (weze ‘to be’)

The copula of being doesn’t impose any selection restrictions of its own on the argument appearing in its structural subject position. It does impose restrictions on the type of infinitive which it selects. It selects a reduced infinitive, that is, a type of infinitive without subject or object, of which the object argument is expressed in its subject position. An example is given below:

Dät waas laidich goud tou ferstounden.
it was relatively good to understand
It was relatively good to hear.

The object of the infinitive appears as the subject of the auxiliary. This construction requires an evaluative adjective which forms one constituent with the reduced to-infinitive. But the copula of being can also be directly joined to a reduced to-infinitive:

Dät Huus wier die Pot tou koopjen waas.
the house where the pot to buy was
The house where the pot was for sale.

The example illustrates that the to-infinitive precedes the tensed verb in the verb cluster, which is an indication of clause union. Clause union is obligatory, which indicates that the to-infinitive itself is directly selected by the auxiliary verb. As a result, it may be expected that the auxiliary verb forms an idiomatic combination with the main verb. This may indeed be the case, as in the following example:

Ju is noch tou häben.
she is still to have
She is not yet engaged.

Idiom formation thus indicates that the auxiliary directly selects not just the clause headed by the to-infinitive, but also its head and the lexical item occupying the head position. As mentioned, the infinitives are reduced, and they are object (theme) oriented. It may also be appreciated that the construction has a modal meaning, which is a characteristic of to-infinitives.

An infinitive denoting an activity without an object cannot be directly joined to the verb of being:

Umdät ju altied in hiere Tuun tou wierkjen waas.
because she always in her garden to work was
Because she was always working in her garden.

In order to express this meaning, a special type of progressive construction must be chosen (on this construction, see Laker & Kramer 2022):

Umdät ju altied in hiere Tuun an 't Wierkjen waas.
because she always in her garden at the work was
Because she was always working in her garden.

We will refer to this latter construction as a progressive, and as an adpositional neuter infinitive, since the infinitive is introduced by an adposition, followed by the neuter article. To sum, if the verb of being combines with a to-infinitive, the to-infinitive must be reduced and the direct object of the to-infinitive must be hosted by the subject position of the auxiliary. This is also the case with passive participles, to which this type of to-infinitive is similar.

[+]2. The auxiliary of possession (häbe ‘to have’)

Like weze ‘be’, there are other verbs which select reduced infinitives, such as the verb häbe ‘to have’. The auxiliary of having differs in two respects from the auxiliary of being:

  • The auxiliary of being has no NP arguments, whereas the auxiliary of having has a possessor argument which is realised in its structural subject position.
  • The auxiliary of being hosts the object argument of a to-infinitive in its structural subject position, whereas the auxiliary of having hosts the object argument of a to-infinitive in its structural object position.

Furthermore, the subject of the verb of possession controls the subject argument of the to-infinitive. The following examples involve the use of häbe ‘to have’ as a copular auxiliary selecting a reduced to-infinitive:

Die Muller hied Härm al bie de Ore tou pakjen.
the miller had Herm already at the ears to get
The miller had already grabbed Herm by the ears.
Buur Harms hät Bullenkoolwere tou ferkoopjen.
farmer Harms has bull.calves to sell
Farmer Harms has bull calves to sell.

The auxiliary of having has a different relation to the to-infinitive than the auxiliary of being. The auxiliary of having requires that the to-infinitive denotes a state of affairs that can be possessed by the subject of the auxiliary. This entails that the object of the to-infinitive must be something that is possessable. In keeping with this, the to-infinitive itself is subject to selectional restrictions imposed by the auxiliary of possession. This is not the case with the modal auxiliarie. Thus the to-infinitive touferkoopjen ‘to sell’ is one constituent, selected by the auxiliary of possession, hence the to-infinitive denotes a selected action associated with possession, such as touching or selling.

As mentioned, this implies that the reduced to-infinitive is a constituent by itself. Correspondingly, it can be preposed (given a suitable pragmatic context), as is illustrated in the following example:

Tou fodderjen häbe we genouch foar touken Jier.
to feed have we enough for coming year
We have enough fodder for the coming year.

Furthermore, as an obligatory predicate, it must occur to the left of the finite verb (indeed, of the verb cluster) at the end of the middle field, like small clause predicates in general must. An example is given below:

Die der wät tou ferkoopjen hät.
who REL what to sell has
Who has something to sell.

Finally, as a selected constituent by itself, the to-infinitive may form an idiomatic collocation with the main verb. This is the case in examples like: it tou tällen häbe ‘to be in charge’, as in the following example:

Hier häbe do Bupperste et aal tou tällen.
here have the upper.ones it all to tell
Here the upper few have all the power.

Thus the auxiliary of possession selects a to-infinitive, but this to-infinitive is not accompanied by any arguments of its own. Instead, its object argument is realised in the direct object position of the auxiliary of possession.

There is also a different construction in which the verb of having selects a bare infinitive. An example of this construction is given below:

Iek häbe ourekend, wofuul näie Rokke dät iek in ’t Skap hongjen hied.
I have off.reckoned how.many new skirts that I in the closet hang have
I calculated how many new skirts I have hanging in the closet.

In this construction, the verb of having selects a bare gerundial infinitive (bare: so no to-infinitive). The selected infinitive is subject to a severe semantic restriction. It must be a verb of body posture: sitte ‘sit’, stounde ‘stand’, läze ‘lie’or hongje ‘hang’. This restriction is also found in West Frisian, and it is characteristic of auxiliaries selecting a bare gerundial infinitive. Remember that the auxiliary of having features no such restriction in case it combines with a to-infinitive. Selected to-infinitives just had to belong to the large class of transitive verbs of activity. Furthermore, the bare gerundial construction requires the lexicalisation of the infinitival subject in the object position of the auxiliary of having. The to-infinitival construction, in contrast, has an empty subject, which is controlled, usually, by the subject of the selecting auxiliary. Incidentally, the sentence above is one of the rare examples of a complementiser following a wh-phrase introducing an embedded sentence.

[+]3. The auxiliary of coming into possession (kriege ‘to get, receive’)

The auxiliary of possession is stative. Its dynamic counterpart is kriege ‘get, receive’. The auxiliary of coming into possession is similar to the auxiliary of possession. Both select a subject NP which represents the possessor. Both have a structural object position in which the object of the reduced infinitive is realised. Some examples are given below:

Dät nemens tou sjoon kreech, wier ze flain wieren.
that nobody to see got where they flewn were
That nobody got to see where they had gone to.
Iek toachte, dät iek wunders wät tou heren kreech.
I thought that I wonder what to hear got
I thought I would get to hear something extraordinary.
As ju fon sin Dood tou wieten kreech.
when she of his death to know got
When she got to hear of his death.

The object of the auxiliary is the proposition as a whole, that is the to-infinitival clause. The to-infinitive syntactically forms one clause with the auxiliary, as is clear from its placement to the left of the auxiliary in embedded clauses. This indicates that the middle field of the auxiliary has been joined to the middle field of the infinitive (clause union). The object of the infinitive is realised in the structural object position of the dynamic auxiliary of possession. The auxiliary selects not only the infinitival complement, but also the head of the complement. Thus it imposes lexical and semantic restrictions on the main verb, which is characteristically a verb of knowledge of perception, as is clear from the examples given above. A peculiar example is the following:

As sik dät foar 'n jungen Kerl heert tou dwoon.
as REFL it for a young man is.decent to do
As it is decent for a young man to do.

The example involves clause union, since the object of the to-infinitive shows up in the middle field of the selecting auxiliary. Furthermore, the object of the to-infinitive is the subject of the auxiliary heert ‘should, be decent for’. Hence this seems to be another case of raising an infinitival object to an argument position (here: the subject position) of the selecting auxiliary. The subject of the to-infinitive is controlled by the experiencer PP accompanying the selecting auxiliary. The construction may have been made possible at all by the reflexive. It seems impossible to produce the sentence without the reflexive. It is known that reflexives affect argument structure. Thus, it can be conjectured that the object raising analysis is correlated with the use of the reflexive, as far as this auxiliary is concerned. Normally, if here ‘should, be decent’ is a raising verb, it is a subject raising verb. So it appears that the reflexive turns the verb here ‘hear’ in an object raising auxiliary, with demotion of the subject to a PP headed by the adposition foar ‘for’.

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