As language teachers we rely on textbook writers, lexicographers, grammarians to do their job so that we can do ours. That textbook writers sometimes fail us is evident but not too serious, since as teachers we are also equipped to write our own materials. That lexicographers and grammarians may fail us is not an idea we often entertain, but as R.M.W Dixon's magisterial The Unmasking of English Dictionaries (Cambridge, 2018) convincingly demonstrates, even in a language as well endowed as English the monolingual dictionaries we are encouraged to recommend to learners are flawed in ways that frequently render their definitions all but useless to foreign learners. That grammarians should fail us is, however, almost unthinkable, especially in the world's most studied language. But here is an example.
In English we are happy to talk about lost property, hired cars and unsolved problems but correspondingly less happy to contemplate found property, bought cars or solved problems. The latter sound distinctly odd and would probably be ruled out as ungrammatical by most native speakers. English seems to place severe but elusive constraints on the use of participial premodifiers, especially those involving the past participle. This is an everyday problem for anyone teaching English to speakers of the many languages that do not share these constraints. As a teacher of English to speakers of German, I find misuse of participial premodifiers to be one of the most common mistakes I encounter and would like to correct, if only I could provide a satisfactory explanation. None of the standard pedagogical grammars (Murphy, Swan, Emmerson) provides any guidance whatsover. Academic grammars, both of the monolingual and comparative kind, fare no better. Quirk, Greenbaum et al.'s A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language (London, 1985, with sundry later editions) makes a half-hearted attempt to address the problem, but the account it provides is neither coherent nor convincing. Feist's Premodifiers in English (Cambridge, 2013) contrives to ignore the issue as does most contemporary research. So the best course seems to be a bit of good old-fashioned DIY. Engaging with Quirk, Greenbaum et al., I endeavour to develop their analysis in such a way as to suggest how the problem might be best resolved. For the sake of simplicity I continue to limit myself to the case of past participles.
Im Englischen spricht man von lost property, hired cars und unsolved problems, aber nicht found property, bought cars or solved problems. Im Englischen unterliegt die Verwendung sogenannter partizipialer Prämodifikatoren offenbar strengen aber schwer fassbaren Beschränkungen, besonders beim Partizip der Vergangenheit. Wer Englisch an Studenten unterrichtet, deren Muttersprachen diese Beschränkungen nicht teilen, ist tagtäglich mit diesem Problem konfrontiert. Keine der Standard-Grammatiklehrbücher (Murphy, Swan, Emmerson) liefert auch nur die geringste Orientierungshilfe. Wissenschaftliche Grammatiken, ob einsprachig oder vergleichend, machen es da nicht viel besser. A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language (London, 1985, mit zahlreichen späteren Ausgaben) von Quirk, Greenbaum u.a. setzt mit dem Thema nur halbherzig auseinander und liefert eine Darstellung, die weder konsistent noch überzeugend ist. Auch die neuere Forschung lässt uns bedauerlichweise im Stich. Notgedrungen versuche ich folglich selbst Hand anzulegen und die von Quirk, Greenbaum et al. gebotene Analyse weiterzuentwickeln, um so aufzuzeigen, wie das Problem wohl am besten zu lösen wäre.
Peter Butler read Philosophy and Modern Languages at King's College, Cambridge, and holds a Ph.D in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russian and Czech literature. He is currently a Lecturer in English at the University of Applied Arts and Sciences Northwestern Switzerland, where he also teaches German-medium courses in the history and culture of Eastern Europe, Russia and Japan.