[Mechanical Translation, Vol.7, no.1, July 1962]
Problems of Equivalence in Some German and English
by John S. Bross,* Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The time has come when well-organized and thoroughly worked out
transfer grammars should be developed. Such a grammar should be com-
posed of formal statements equating the construction-types of the input
language with those of the output language and indicating the appropriate
transformations which must be made to produce the target language
In connection with the problem of structural transfer, a study was
made of the behavior of some English verbs and their German equivalents
in a fixed number of constructions. The verbs were grouped in syntactic
classes on the basis of their respective distributions. The conditions were
stated under which it is possible to use the same combination of con-
stituents in a construction when translating from German to English and
This work should be regarded as a preliminary study of that information
about syntactic restrictions on verbs which should be encoded in an auto-
matic dictionary as an aid in solving problems of structural transfer.
The problem of translation may be divided into three cumstances, if mechanical translation is to be realized,
stages, as suggested by Yngve1: analysis (recognition), some sort of exhaustive formal list of the constructions
structural transfer, and synthesis (construction). In the in the output language which are equivalent to the con-
first stage, the syntactic structure of a sentence in the structions in the input language is needed. The com-
input language is analyzed and noted in terms of struc- pilation of such a list will, admittedly, be a laborious and
tural specifiers; in the second stage, the input language tedious task.
specifiers are mapped onto output language specifiers; To any one working with languages which employ
in the third stage these output language specifiers are similar constructions for expressing the same idea, the
used to construct the equivalent sentence in the output need for an exhaustive transfer grammar may not be so
language. obvious. The easier and quicker solution to the problem,
To date considerable work has been published on the as it concerns similarly structured languages, appears,
analysis of languages both from the viewpoint of de- at first blush, to be simply to make a word-for-word
scriptive linguistics and from the viewpoint of linguistics translation, following which a modicum of rearranging
applied to problems of mechanical translation. Also an of words would be carried out. The translation resulting
ever increasing amount of attention is being devoted to from such a procedure would presumably be under-
sentence generation and, in particular, to the construc- standable to those familiar with the general subject mat-
tion of a generative grammar of English. In regard to ter, but it would be so sadly lacking in style as to be in-
structural transfer, some work has been done by Harris2 comprehensible to others.
and his followers and recently an introductory study of The research problems which will be encountered in
the problem was made at Harvard by Foust and Walk- the compilation of a transfer grammar for structurally
ling.3 Nevertheless, comparatively little concrete progress similar languages are probably more complex than those
has been made in the construction of adequate transfer encountered in the compilation of a transfer grammar
grammars, even though structural transfer is the most for structurally dissimilar languages, because the tempta-
crucial part of the translation process. tion is greater to assume that, because construction c in
Language A is translatable by construction c' in Lan-
The Need for Transfer Grammars guage B some of the time, c' will always be an accept-
The need for a transfer grammar is obvious to anyone able translation of c. The constructions c and c' may, in
working with languages where the syntactic construc- fact, be equivalent only with certain classes of words.
tions used to express a given meaning in the one lan- For example, the sentences Er zog vor, zu arbeiten
guage differ radically from those used to express the and He preferred to work are based on the same under-
same meaning in the other language. Under these cir- lying structure (Noun + Verb + Infinitive phrase), but
* Now at the Computation Laboratory of Harvard University. This only by a study of individual verbs—or of mistrans-
work was supported in part by the National Science Foundation and in lations—would one discover that Er hoerte auf zu
part by the U.S. Army (Signal Corps), the U.S. Air Force (Office of
Scientific Research, Air Research and Development Command), and arbeiten requires a differently structured sentence in
the U.S. Navy (Office of Naval Research). The author wishes to thank
Miss Renata A. Hofman, Mrs. Ruth Ward, and Miss Rosemarie Sträuss- English as an equivalent, namely He stopped going to
nigg for their patient help as native German informants at various
stages in this study. school.
Organization and Operation of a Transfer Grammar For purposes of this paper, it is assumed that a list
There are various ways of constructing a transfer gram- of numbers marking the word as a member of one
mar, ranging from ad hoc statements of structural trans- or more syntactic classes has been appended to each
formations to elaborate statements of equivalence. In word in the dictionary. It is also assumed that the
any case, the final transfer grammar should consist transfer grammar consists of statements of structural
of a list of statements of structural transformations. transfer in which the constituents of the output lan-
The various kinds of structural transformations will in- guage constructions are marked appropriately as mem-
clude insertion, deletion, full or partial substitution bers of these same syntactic classes.
(modification) and rearrangement of words (permuta- The executive program of the transfer grammar will
tion). Whenever a construction in one language may use syntactic information in the following way. It will
be translated into the other language with the same type look for and select an output language construction
of construction, the statement to this effect can be whose constituents are in the same syntactic classes as
very brief in the final transfer grammar. the particular output language words involved. For
As envisaged by the author, a transfer grammar will example, if the output language equivalent of a given
be activated after a text in the input language has verb is intransitive, a construction will be selected which
been analyzed syntactically and after the output lan- calls for an intransitive verb; if, on the other hand,
guage lexical equivalents for each input language word the only possible translation of a given construction is
have been found. The transfer grammar will be made one with a transitive verb, and there are two possible
up of a small executive program and a list of statements translations of the given verb, then the verb which is
which will indicate the construction or alternative con- transitive will be selected. Thus, although work means
structions which may be used in the output language as both arbeiten and bearbeiten, in the context He worked
a good translation of any given construction in the the clay only the transitive verb bearbeiten would be
input language. selected in a translation into German because the equiv-
The executive program will first locate the input alent German construction requires a transitive verb
language construction in the list of statements of struc- and this fact would have been noted in the transfer
tural transfer. Then it will select from the list those grammar. This simple example illustrates how syntactic
equivalent output language constructions in which the compatibility can be used to decide among alternative
particular lexical items under consideration can appear. constructions and words in translation. If the grammar
This selection will be made on the basis of syntactic has been properly constructed, there should be at least
information stored in the dictionary, and in the trans- one construction which is compatible with the syntactic
fer grammar. class requirements of the individual words concerned.
Along with each lexical item in the output language When more than one construction and lexical item in
dictionary there will be stored information not only the output language are compatible, the appropriate
about the general syntactic function of the item, e.g., intersection may have to be selected with semantic cri-
noun, verb, adjective, but also about the particular con- teria or according to some set of priorities.
structions with which this item may or may not be The following example may serve as a somewhat
used. In other words, not only will the fact that a more complicated illustration of how the transfer gram-
given lexical item is, say, a verb be stored in the dic- mar described above would operate. A statement is
tionary, but also the various constructions which this needed to express the fact that the German sentence
verb governs will likewise be stored in the dictionary. Der Mann fährt ihr den Wagen should be translated
This information may be stored in the dictionary in as The man drives the car for her. The following crude
various ways. One method would be simply to append to equation could be placed in the transfer grammar:
each word in the dictionary a complete list of the con-
structions with which that word can be used. This list NP1/case nom + VERB/x + NP2/case dat
+ NP3/case acc
could be compressed and stored efficiently as one or
= NP1/case subj + VERB/x' + NP3/case obj
two twelve-character machine words in any automatic
+ for + NP2/case obj
dictionary with a format similar to that of the Harvard
Automatic Dictionary developed by Oettinger.4 Each where x stands for specifiers of tense, number, and
position in the machine word could be used to identify person and x' stands for the corresponding English
a whole list of syntactic constructions. Another method morphological specifiers. NP stands for either a noun
of storage would be to place the words which can with its modifiers or a pronoun. Only in regard to pro-
occur in the same construction or groups of construc- nouns will the case specifiers be needed in English.
tions in the same syntactic classes and then append to The above sentences can be successfully translated by
each word in the dictionary the list of syntactic classes applying this equation. If this statement of structural
to which that word belongs. This list would hopefully equivalence were always valid, all that one would need
be brief enough to make elaborate encoding unnec- to say about a verb would be that it was a verb, and
essary. This is the method of storage envisioned in this further specification would be unnecessary.
paper. The preceding equation, however, will not yield the
correct English translation for a sentence like Der Mann were closely studied in these fifteen constructions. It
gibt dem Mädchen ein Buch. According to the equa- was noted which verbs can be substituted in any given
tion, this sentence would be translated as The man construction and which cannot. The results of this study
gives a book for the girl, instead of the correct sentence were compared with results of a similar study of sixty-
The man gives a book to the girl, or more simply, The five approximately equivalent German verbs in the
man gives the girl a book. (We shall disregard the corresponding German constructions. Native informants
problem here of choosing the correct tense form of the were regularly used in the study of the German verbs.
verb, since this problem should be coped with at an- The methods of substitution used were similar to
other level in the transfer grammar.) In order that those used by Harris and by Fries, among others. From
mistranslations do not result, the verb give should be the various selected predicate constructions, the verb
marked in some way so that it will not be treated in head was extracted. The remainders of these con-
the same manner as drive and add. structions were called, after the terminology of Harris,
Although the words in any language function to- diagnostic environments.5 For example, He . . . into the
gether in syntactic constructions within the overall park is a diagnostic environment of the verb run. The
structure of that particular language, it is possible for string of morphemes He ... into the park cooccurs with
limited purposes to equate some of the constructions of various forms of the paradigm of the verb run. Also
similarly structured languages. Thus, the sentences Der this string of morphemes can be used as a sample diag-
Mann gibt dem Mädchen ein Buch and The man gives nostic environment in which other verbs can be sub-
the girl a book may be said to have the same structure, stituted, e.g. in this study, jump. This was a test of
since they both consist of subject + verb + indirect syntactic, not semantic substitutability. Therefore,
animate object + direct inanimate object. In this par- whenever there was any doubt as to the syntactic
ticular construction the ordering of the elements is substitutability of any verb in a given environment,
also the same. The verbs give and geben may be con- one of the words in this environment was replaced by
sidered as structurally identical in regard to this con- another word which can fit in the same slot, i.e. by
struction, since they fulfill the same role and govern another member of the same syntactic class. In the
the same types of objects in their respective linguistic above environment park can be replaced by ocean.
systems. All that is needed in the transfer grammar to Thus it may be verified that jump is substitutable in
translate constructions in which a verb like geben ap- this environment. Those verbs which are mutually sub-
pears is a simple statement of structural identity. In stitutable in one or more sample diagnostic environ-
this study those verbs which can appear in construc- ments or in environments similar to these, were placed
gives in the same class.
tions exemplified by the man buys the girl a book
will be marked as 'Vt.indO'. Other verbs will be treated Constructions Studied
in the same manner as drive and add in constructions The German and English constructions which were
involving an indirect object. assumed at the beginning of this study to be both
structurally and semantically equivalent are listed be-
Method and Objective of Present Study low. These verb constructions will be referred to
In line with the eventual goal of compiling a transfer throughout this report by the accompanying abbrevia-
grammar for German and English, the author under- tions.
took the study of a selected number of German and Parentheses around any constituent in one of these
English verbs and constructions involving verbs. This constructions indicate that this constituent is an op-
study was concerned only with a restricted number tional member of the construction.
of those German and English constructions which are NP stands for a pronoun or a noun phrase containing
both structurally similar and translationally equivalent. one or more constituents.
The purpose of this study was to determine how closely V stands for verb.
structural similarity could be correlated with transla- Aux stands for the appropriate bound and free mor-
tional equivalence in these two languages. This study phemes designating the number, tense, mood and voice
was concerned, for example, with determining whether of a verb. (Only active voice was considered here, how-
and to what extent a German verb followed by a cer- ever.) These morphemes include —s, —ø, —ed, —te,
tain type of predicate complement can always be trans- —ten, have, haben, sind, werden, will, etc.
lated by an English verb followed by the same type Advloc stands for an adverb or adverbial phrase of
of complementation. This study was an attempt at location.
determining which of the selected correspondences are
regular and predictable. Abbreviation Construction
Fifteen English constructions involving verbs were SV NP—Aux—V
compared with seventeen corresponding German con- Sample Diagnostic Environments (DE):
structions. Forty English verbs, selected because of the He... .
wide variety of constructions in which they can appear, Er ... .
SVPN NP—Aux—V—Advloc Ger. NP1—Aux—V1—dass—NP2—(NP3)
DE: He ... in the park. —V2—Aux
Er ... in dem Park. DE: He . . . that it was raining.
Er . . ., dass es regnete
SVIp Eng: NP1—Aux—V1— ( in order) to—V2— SVOCt Eng: NP1—Aux—V1—NP2—that—NP3—
Ger: NP1—Aux—V1—um—(NP2)—zu— Ger: NP1—Aux—V1—NP2 —dass— NP3—
DE: He ... in order to please them. DE: He ... the man that it was raining.
Er . . ., um ihnen zu gefallen. Er ... d— Mann—, dass es regnete.
SVCp Eng: NP1—Aux—V1—in order that— SVIo Eng: NP1—Aux—V1—(to)—V2—(NP2)
NP2—Aux—V2— (NP3) Ger: NP1—Aux—V1—(NP2) —zu—V2
Ger: NP1—Aux—V1—(so) dass—NP2— DE: He. . .to do this.
(NP3)—V2—Aux Er ... dies zu tun.
DE: He ... so that he might please them. SVOIo Eng: NP1—Aux—V1—NP2—(to)—V2—
Er . . ., so dass er ihnen gefalle. (NP3)
SVO SVOacc The German constructions SVOacc, Ger: NP1—Aux—V1—NP2—(NP3) —(zu)
SVOdat SVOdat, and SVOgen were all assumed to —V2
SVOgen be equivalent to the English construc- DE: He ... the man to do this.
tion SVOacc (or, more simply, SVO) in Er ... d— Mann—, dies zu tun.
which case is not distinctively marked SVintoN NP1—Aux—V—PrepPhrasedirection
except when O is a pronoun. DE: He . .. into the park.
SVOacc NPnom—Aux—V—NPacc Er ... in den Park.
DE: He. . .the book. SVOintoN NP1—Aux—V—NP—PrepPhrasedirection
Er ... das Buch. DE: He ... the book into the park.
SVO dat NPnom—Aux—V—NPdat Er ... d— Buch— in den Park.
DE: (not applicable in English)
Analysis of Verb Distributions
Er ... dem Mann.
SVOgen NPnom—Aux—V—NPgen The entire distributions of some of the verbs considered
DE: (not applicable in English) in this study, i.e. the list of constructions with which
Er ... des Buches. each verb can be used, can be determined by substi-
SVOPN NP1—Aux—V—NP2—Advloc tution in the constructions analysed in this study, but the
DE: He ... the book in the park. distributions of other verbs cannot be completely deter-
Er ... d— Buch— in dem Park. mined nor can the verbs, consequently, be assigned to
SVOIp Eng: NP1—Aux—V1—NP2— (in order) to all of the appropriate syntactic classes, until other con-
—V2— (NP3) structions are considered. For example, the verb choose
Ger: NP1—Aux—V1—NP2—um—(NP3) — may be substituted not only in several of the environ-
zu—V2 ments listed above, but also in the environment They
DE: He... the book in order to please . . . the man president. This should not be confused
them. with the similarly structured environment They . . . the
Er ... d— Buch—, um ihnen zu ge- man a dog, which is semantically and tranformationally
SVOCp Eng: NP1—Aux—V1—NP2— so related to They .. . a dog to the man. The environ-
in order ment They . . . the man president was not considered
that—NP3—Aux—V2— (NP4) in this study, but should be taken into consideration
Ger: NP1—Aux—V1—NP2—(so) dass— when the distributions of the various verbs are being
NP3—(NP4) —V2—Aux. determined.
DE: He ... the book, so that he might Two other verbs in this study, treffen and meet are
please them. members of a small, but noteworthy class of verbs, also
Er ... d— Buch—, so dass er ihnen not considered in detail. This is the class of reciprocal
gefalle. verbs. These verbs are obligatorily transitive when the
SVOdatOacc Eng: NP1—Aux—V—NP2—NP3 subject is singular, but when the subject is plural, the
Ger: NP1—Aux—V—NPdat—NPacc object may be omitted, e.g. She met the man in the park
DE: He ... her a book. and They met (each other) in the park, but not She met
Er ... ihr ein Buch. in the park.
SVCt Eng: NP1—Aux—V1—that—NP2—Aux— In order to complete the distribution of verbs in Ger-
V2—(NP3) man and English, it may be useful to learn whether a
specific noun is used with the verb. A somewhat dubious
example of this is the “verb” Rechenschaft ablegen at the distributions of their various German equivalents.
meaning account for. This was treated both as a com- The ambiguous verbs in this study and their German
pound verb in two parts and as a verb plus object. The equivalents here considered are the following: add,
author was not completely satisfied with either treat- meaning say further—hinzufügen, add, as in add a
ment. The German reflexive verbs present a similar prob- column of figures—addieren; stop, meaning cease—auf-
lem. Should a reflexive pronoun used with the verb be hören, stop, meaning brake (an automobile)—anhalten,
deemed an object or a part of the verb? In this study stop (momentarily), i.e. delay—aufhalten; tell, meaning
sich with erinnern was considered as part of the verb relate—erzählen, tell, meaning command—befehlen,
because sich erinnern has a different distribution from also tell, meaning say—sagen; see (with the eyes), also
erinnern plus object. meaning understand—sehen, see meaning realize— ein-
It may also be useful to discover if a particular prepo- sehen.
sition is normally used with the verb with or without an Some German verbs also presented problems in mean-
intervening object, e.g. account for, sich erinnern an, ac- ing. Usually only one meaning of each of these verbs was
cuse (Object) of. dealt with and only one English equivalent for each of
Finally, in English verbs it may be useful in a transfer these verbs was analysed; treffen—meet, but also hit;
grammar to know which verbs can be used with an ob- wählen—choose, but also vote; and erklären—account
ject verb in —ing, e.g. He stopped writing. This con- for, but also explain.
struction will be considered in a later section in con-
nection with the German constructions SVIo and SVOIo.
All of the verbs that were selected for study were tested
The reader may wonder why a total of eight common
in the constructions listed above. Those verbs which are
transitive and intransitive constructions were used in-
substitutable in the same construction or constructions
stead of two in determining the distribution of the in-
were placed in the same syntactic verb-class. Because of
dividual verbs. These constructions were used to verify
the great variation in distribution noted among the
the transitivity and intransitivity of the verbs. It was dis-
verbs, it proved impractical to place in the same class
covered that it is possible to predict that any verb may
only those verbs which are substitutable in the same
appear in all of the constructions SVO, SVOPN, SVOIp,
total collection of constructions. In the interest of sim-
and SVOCp, if it can appear in any one of them. How-
plicity, and also to show more clearly which English
ever, it is not always the case that a verb which can ap-
verbs may appear in the same construction as their
pear in one of the common intransitive constructions SV,
German equivalents, criteria for membership in a class
SVPN, SVIp, and SVCp, may appear in all four. Some
were generally reduced to the criteria of transitivity (or
verbs are acceptable as constituents of some intransitive
intransitivity) as a minimum. Most of the verbs were
constructions, but not of others. For example, the verbs
members of other classes as well. These classes have
wissen, wollen, and mögen may occur in SV when an
been labeled mnemonically.
object O is understood from the context, but they can-
Three of the more noteworthy syntactic classes are
not appear in the other three intransitive constructions.
those which distinguish obligatorily transitive verbs from
In this report only those verbs which may occur in all
obligatorily intransitive verbs and from optionally transi-
four of the common intransitive constructions have been
tive or intransitive verbs.
considered as members of the obligatorily or optionally
Obligatorily transitive verbs can all appear in the con-
structions SVO, SVOPN, SVOIp, and SVOCp, but can-
Finally, in connection with the distribution of indi-
not appear in the constructions SV, SVPN, SVIp, or
vidual verbs it should be noted that in this study usually
SVCp.—For simplicity in this study the class of transi-
only one meaning of a verb was considered in the de-
tive verbs has been extended to include verbs govern-
termination of the distribution of the verb. If a verb
ing an object in the dative or genitive case.
could appear in a certain construction, but had a differ-
Obligatorily intransitive verbs, unlike the transitive
ent meaning in that construction, the construction was
verbs cannot appear in the constructions SVO, SVOPN,
not included as part of the distribution. For example,
SVOIp, or SVOCp, but may appear in the constructions
want was analysed in the sense desire. It was not con-
SV, SVPN, SVIp, and SVCp.
sidered as a possible constituent of the construction SV,
Optionally intransitive verbs are transitive verbs
as in He wants, because in this construction want means
which may appear in the above constructions in which
lack. Nevertheless, two meanings each were considered
obligatorily transitive verbs cannot appear; and con-
of three English verbs: know, live and run. These verbs
versely, optionally transitive verbs are intransitive verbs
were considered essentially as homographs, each of
which may appear in the above constructions in which
which has a different distribution. There were also other
obligatorily intransitive verbs cannot appear.
verbs in this study which are ambiguous in the limited
environments provided in these constructions. Only one In the presentation of verb-classes below, the follow-
distribution of each of these verbs was worked out. Some ing conventions have been adopted:
clues as to the limitation of the distribution of the vari- 1. A comma between verbs indicates that these verbs
ous meanings of these verbs may be found by looking have the same total distribution, i.e. that these verbs are
members of the same group of syntactic classes. and four common intransitive constructions, but they
2. A single semicolon between verbs indicates that these cannot appear in any other of the constructions con-
verbs are members of different groups of syntactic sidered in this study.
classes. Vt.obl—All Vt verbs in this study which were not listed
3. A double semicolon is placed before that group of in class Vt.opt.
verbs which may also be used in the common intransi- None of the verbs in this class can appear in the con-
tive constructions. The double semicolon separates structions SV, SVPN, SVIp, or SVCp.
obligatorily transitive verbs from optionally intransitive Vt.obl.com—anblicken, annehmen, ansehen, aufrichten,
verbs. bearbeiten, bekommen, besprechen, betrachten, em-
pfangen, erhalten, erörtern, kennen, unterstützen,
In this study only two obligatorily intransitive verbs account for, discuss, know (meaning be acquainted
were found. These have been classed as follows: with), look at, straighten, support; treffen, meet.
Vi.com—arbeiten. These verbs can be used only with the four common
transitive constructions SVO, SVOPN, SVOIp, and
This intransitive verb can appear only in the common SVOCp.
intransitive constructions SV, SVPN, SVIp, and SVCp. Vt.dat—raten; befehlen; erzählen, sagen, vorschlagen;;
This class would also contain verbs like arrive, depart, helfen.
disappear, and vanish. This class is small because many Whenever a verb of this class appears in a construc-
normally intransitive verbs can appear in transitive con- tion where there is an animate noun used predicatively,
structions with a cognate object. (See class Vt.opt.cog this noun will be in the dative case.
below) Vt.gen—sich erinnern, gedenken.
Vi.to—aufhören. Any noun used predicatively with a member of this
This verb can appear not only in the common in- class may be in the genitive case. (With sich erinnern
transitive constructions, but also in the construction the predicate noun may be used in the accusative case
SVIo, as in Er hört auf das zu tun. after the preposition an.)
Two verbs were found in this study to be anomalous. Vt.indO—machen, (Rechenschaft) ablegen; bewirken,
These are the verbs wohnen and live (meaning dwell). erklären, hinzufügen; befehlen; tell; erzählen, sagen,
They are anomalous syntactically because they may ap- vorschlagen, wünschen; aufhalten; auswählen, wäh-
pear only in the construction SVPN. They have been len, fahren; bringen, nehmen, bring, take; make;;
placed in a class designated as Va. addieren, anhalten, geben, kaufen, buy, give; unter-
All the rest of the verbs in this study were placed in schreiben; laufen, springen.
classes designated in part by Vt because they can all ap- All of these verbs may appear in the construction
pear in the common transitive constructions SVO, SVOdatOacc, e.g. The man bought the boy a dog.
SVOPN, SVOIp, and SVOCp. These verbs have been Vt.that—wissen, say, suggest; raten, advise; sich erin-
classed as follows: nern, gedenken; vorziehen, prefer; mögen, wollen;
Vt.opt—stop, work; addieren, anhalten, geben, kaufen, bewirken, erklären, hinzufügen; befehlen; tell; erzäh-
buy, give; leben, schlafen, live (not meaning dwell), len, sagen, vorschlagen; wünschen;; begreifen, ver-
sleep; begreifen, verstehen, einsehen, know (not stehen, einsehen, know (not meaning be acquainted
meaning be acquainted with), understand, add; with), understand, add; sehen, see; remember;
sehen, see; remember; unterschreiben; sign; helfen; unterschreiben.
help, choose; run (meaning go quickly), jump; All of the verbs in this category can be used in the
laufen, springen; accept. construction SVCt, e.g. He said that the sum was shin-
All of the verbs in this class may appear in the com- Vt.Othat—raten, advise; erinnern, mahnen, remind,
mon intransitive constructions SV, SVPN, SVIp, and persuade; erzählen, sagen, vorschlagen; beraten;
SVCp in addition to the common transitive and other tell;; sign, unterschreiben.
constructions. All of the verbs in this class can be used in the con-
Vt.opt.cog—leben, schlafen, live (not meaning dwell), struction SVOCt, e.g. He told her that the sun was shin-
sleep; run (meaning go quickly), jump, laufen, ing.
springen. Vt.to—want; sich erinnern, gedenken; vorziehen, prefer;
These are all optionally transitive verbs. They may ap- aufhalten; wünschen;; helfen; help, choose; re-
pear in transitive constructions only when the object is member.
either a word which is identical with or derived from All of the verbs in this class can be used in the con-
the verb, or a word which is synonymous with a word struction SVIo, e.g. He wanted to write a letter.
which is identical with or derived from the verb, e.g. He Vt.Oto—raten; advise; erinnern, mahnen, remind, per-
lived his life, He ran a run, He ran a race. suade; want; auswählen, wählen; befehlen; tell;
Vt.opt.com—stop, work. beraten, überzeugen, überreden; helfen; help,
These verbs can appear in the four common transitive choose; sehen, see; sign.
All of the verbs in this class can be used in the con- could test for substitutability in the construction NP—
struction SVOIo as in The girl wanted the boy to write a Verb—NP—to—NPanim. In the transfer grammar all Ger-
letter and She saw the boy go home. man SVOdatOacc constructions could be equated with
NP—Verb— NP—for—NPanim. For example, Er kaufte
Vt.into—fahren (meaning drive);; sehen, see; run dem Jungen ein Buch would become He bought a book
(meaning go quickly), jump; sign(?); laufen, for the boy. This structural transfer would be made ex-
springen. cept when the English verb equivalent is a member of the
All of the verbs in this class, can be used in the con- special, more easily definable class of verbs of presenting
struction SVintoN as in He jumped into the pool and and transport. When the verb is a member of this special
in the apparently similarly structured sentence He class, the English construction would be NP—Verb—
signed into the hotel. NP—to—NPanim. For example, Er brachte dem Jungen
Vt.Ointo—bringen, nehmen, bring, take; fahren; re- ein Buch would be translated as He brought a book to the
ceive, run, (meaning operate); make;; run (mean- boy. By using short-cuts such as this, the problems of
go quickly) (?), jump; laufen, springen; accept; translation can be simplified and dealt with more
sign. quickly. Such short-cuts as this one have the advantage
All of the verbs in this class can be used in the con- also of simplification of the problem without alteration
struction SVOintoN as in He brought the book into the or distortion of the meaning of a given construction.
room. Anyone trying to determine the exact distributions of
German and English verbs should be alert to the various
Some Comparisons of the Distributions constructions in which the verbs of the one language
of German and English Verbs have been observed to be substitutable, while their
The problem of determining the distributions of German equivalents in the other language are not. While more
and English verbs and of assigning the verbs to syn- German verbs may appear in the construction SVOdatOacc
tactic classes for use with a transfer grammar can be than their English equivalents, more English verbs may
simplified if general rules of equivalence can be for- appear in the constructions SVintoN and SVOintoN than
mulated so that it will be possible to predict that when- their German counterparts. A total of eleven instances
ever a verb v is used in input language A in construction of this difference were noted.
c, its equivalent v' in the output language B can be Verbs of motion and transport in both German and
used in construction c'. As an aid in making general English may appear in these two constructions, e.g. He
statements and predictions of this kind, the respective jumps into the water, He brings the book into the park:
distributions of equivalent German and English verbs Er springt ins Wasser, Er bringt das Buch in den Park.
were compared. The distribution of each member of However, there is a marginal group of English verbs
sixty-three out of the sixty-five pairs of German and which may be used in one or both of these constructions
English verbs considered were found to vary from one while their German equivalents may not. For example,
another in not more than five constructions. Both mem- the sentence He made the box into a table has a differ-
bers of twenty-two of these verb pairs can occur in the ent structure in its German translation, as may be seen
same constructions, and each member of twenty-two in the sentence Er machte aus der Kiste einen Tisch.
of the verb pairs can occur in the same constructions The sentence He signs into the hotel requires yet another
as the other member of the pair except for one construc- construction in German, namely a reflexive and a prepo-
tion; in this construction one member of the pair may sitional phrase of location instead of direction in the
appear, but the other cannot. sentence Er schreibt sich in dem Hotel ein. In general,
The principal difference noted in the distributions of it may be said that all of the German verbs in this study
the German verbs in contrast to those of their English which can occur in the constructions SVintoN or
equivalents was that many German verbs can appear in SVOintoN can be translated into English with the same
the construction SVOdatO acc, while their English equiva- type of construction with minimal change in meaning,
lents cannot. This difference was noted in twenty verbs. but this working rule does not hold in translation from
Further, this difference is one-sided, that is to say that English into German.
while the English equivalent of a German verb in this By using another construction in the tests of sub-
construction cannot also be used in this construction, for stitutability the class of verbs useable in SVOintoN can
every English verb which could appear in this construc- be subdivided into the verbs of motion and transport
tion there is a German equivalent which can appear in and the remainder. This sub-class of verbs of motion
the same construction. and transport includes an English equivalent for every
Because this difference is so marked, it would seem German verb in the class and vice versa. The construc-
expedient in the construction of a German-to-English tion that would be added to the test would be
transfer grammar to eliminate the structurally similar SVOAdvdir:NP1—Aux—Verb—NP2—Advdirection, where
English construct. This could simplify the task of deter- Advdirection is an adverb indicating a movement to an-
mining the distribution of the English verbs. In place other geographical position, such as the adverb dahin or
of testing for substitutability in this construction, one the obsolete thither in Er brachte das Buch dahin and
He brought the book thither. This construction makes it bearbeitet den Ton in dem Keller → He works the clay
possible to distinguish bring into from make into. in the cellar.
Striking similarities in the distributions of the German In this study it was observed that whenever a German
verbs and of their English equivalents were noted in verb occurs in a common transitive or intransitive con-
connection with the constructions SVCt, SVOCt, SVIo, struction, it may be translated by an English verb in
and SVOIo. There were few instances noted in the verbs the similar English construction. When an English verb
studied where a verb of the one language can appear in appears in a common transitive construction, one of its
one of these constructions while its equivalent in the German equivalents may usually be used in a similarly
other language cannot. This similarity in distributions structured German sentence. When, however, an Eng-
was particularly noticeable in the constructions SVCt lish verb appears in a common intransitive construction,
and SVOCt. it is not always possible to find a German equivalent
Also in the constructions SVIo and SVOIo there is which may be translated in the similar German con-
generally some German verb or other in the classes Vt.to struction.
and Vt.Oto respectively which may be used as a transla- In sum then, as may be seen in Table 1, when one is
tion of the English verb used in the input language trying to determine the distribution of German verbs,
construction. However, this simple structural transfer he must be particularly alert to the possibility of “poor-
cannot always be made in translation from German to ness of fit” in the constructions SVintoN, SVOintoN,
English. Not all English verbs which are the equivalents SVPN, SVIp and SVCp. As touched upon earlier, Ger-
of German verbs occurring in these two constructions man and English obligatorily transitive verbs may some-
may be used in these same two constructions. For ex- times be used in the construction SV with the object
ample, although Er hilft dies zu tun can be translated understood. One clue that is useful in determining the
as He helps to do this, the translation of Er hört auf dies transitivity of German verbs is the prefix be—, as in
zu tun as He ceases to do this is stilted. This sentence is bearbeiten. All of the German verbs in this study which
more commonly translated with a construction involving have the prefix be— were found to be obligatorily
a verb with the suffix —ing, e.g. He stops doing this. transitive.
Consider also the verb vermeiden, which was not closely In the determination of the distributions of English
examined in this study; this verb can occur in the con- verbs, one should be alert to the possibility of poorness
struction SVIo, but it has no English equivalent which of fit in the construction SVOdatOacc, if this construction
may appear in the corresponding English construction.
When vermeiden appears in this construction, its Eng- TABLE 1.
lish equivalent avoid appears in a construction verb + TRANSLATABILITY OF A FIXED NUMBER OF
gerund or gerundive. Instead of an introductory particle GERMAN AND ENGLISH VERB CONSTRUCTIONS
to there is a suffix —ing: Er vermeidet dies zu tun → He
avoids doing this. Similarly, when a German verb ap-
pears in the construction SVOIo, its English equivalent
may be a verb which cannot be used in this construction. SVOPN ↔ SVOPN
For example, the verb abhalten in SVOIo may be SVOIp ↔ SVOIp
translated as keep in a dissimilar construction; Er hält SVOCp ↔ SVOCp
ihn (davon) ab es zu tun → He keeps him from doing it.
More English verbs proportionally may be used than
SVOdat ↔ SVO
German verbs in the entire series of transitive construc-
tions, SVO, SVOPN, SVOIp, and SVOCp, combined
with the common intransitive constructions SV, SVPN, SVCt ↔ SVCt
SVIp, and SVCp, that is to say, more English verbs can SVOCt ↔ SVOCt
be used both transitively and intransitively than German SV → SV
verbs. Because of this, the English verbs may be de- SVPN → SVPN
scribed as having more flexibility structurally than their SVIp → SVIp
German equivalents. A clear example of this is the verb SVCp → SVCp
work. It is a member of class Vt.opt.com. It may be used SVintoN → SVintoN
both transitively and intransitively, but only in the com- SVOintoN → SVOintoN
mon constructions. This verb has two German equiva- SVIo ← SVIo
lents, arbeiten and bearbeiten. Arbeiten can only be SVOIo ← SVOIo
used intransitively and bearbeiten can only be used SVOdatOacc ← SVOdatOacc
transitively. The one verb work has structural flexibility
and also semantic flexibility because it can be used to An arrow means that with the verbs studied it is always
possible to translate a given construction in the input
translate two differently structured sentences in which language into the output construction indicated. For an
the meaning of the verb is somewhat different; Er explanation of the structural designations, see the list of
arbeitet in dem Keller → He works in the cellar and Er constructions studied.
is included in the test, and in the constructions SVIo and these constructs. These verbs were then placed in a
SVOIo in contrast to constructions where the verb is number of syntactic classes according to the construc-
followed by a verb with the suffix —ing. tions in which they can be substituted. Thus oblig-
The above statements about structurally equivalent atorily transitive, obligatorily intransitive, option-
constructions in German and English should not be ally intransitive, and anomalous verbs were placed
construed as universal laws, but simply as regularities in separate syntactic classes. In addition to being
of correspondence affecting certain verbs. These state- a member of one of these classes each verb is a
ments concern only a few of the possible types of output member of one or more other classes, if it can be fol-
language constructions which are equivalent to a few lowed by an infinitive phrase with to or zu, a subordinate
construction-types present in the input language. clause introduced by that or dass, a prepositional phrase
The researcher in the field of mechanical translation of direction, or a predicate containing an indirect object.
should use the structural equivalences presented here The list of syntactic classes to which a given verb be-
only as a guide in the determination of the distribution longs may be stored in an automatic dictionary for use
of individual verbs and in the writing of a simple trans- with a transfer grammar.
fer grammar. The distributions of the verbs of each language were
compared with the distributions of other verbs of the
Summary same language and of the other language in order to
The problems of structural transfer constitute an im- discover predictable regularities that could be used for
portant part of mechanical translation and should be a more efficient determination of the distributions of
dealt with systematically and thoroughly. This study is other verbs not yet studied. Sometimes the distribution
concerned with a detailed analysis of a very small, but of a verb in German can be used as an aid in determin-
frequently used number of constructions that should be ing the distribution of its equivalent in English and
dealt with in a transfer grammar. Nineteen German vice versa. Once the distribution of a verb is known,
verb constructions were postulated as equivalent to it is a relatively easy matter to assign it to syntactic
seventeen English verb constructions. These were se- classes for use in mechanical translation.
lected because a minimum of permutation and modifi- The German and English constructions that were
cation is necessary to transform the constructions of the postulated at the beginning of this report as equivalent
one language into the constructions of the other lan- were found to be equivalent only with certain types, or
guage. classes, of verbs. This report has been an attempt at
In order to test the postulated equivalences and to classifying German and English verbs and determining
gather material needed for a rudimentary transfer gram- when a construction in one of the languages is equiva-
mar, the writer tested forty English verbs and sixty- lent to a certain structurally similar construction in the
four equivalent German verbs for substitutability in other language.
References “Russian-English Structural Trans- uage Translation, Harvard Univer-
1. Yngve, V. H., “A Framework for fer: A Preliminary System,” Mathe- sity Press, Cambridge, Mass.
Syntactic Translation,” Mechan- matical Linguistics and Automatic (1960), Chapter VI.
ical Translation, Vol. 4, No. 3 Translation, Report No. NSF-6, 5. Harris, Z. S., “Co-occurrence and
(1957), pp 59-65. Harvard Computation Laboratory, Transformation in Linguistic Struc-
2. Harris, Z. S., “Transfer Grammar,” Section III (June, 1961). ture,” Language, Vol. 33 (1957),
IJAL, Vol. 20 (1954), pp 259-270. 4. Oettinger, A. G., Automatic Lang- p. 284.
3. Foust, W. D. and Walkling, J. R.,