Prepositional Phrases in English as Phases of the Weak Kind


  • W. A. T. Weerasooriya Department of English and Linguistic, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Sri Lanka


A phase is an instance of derivation or “spell out’’ of a chunk or whole of a sentence construction. It is standardly assumed that
only complementizer phrases and little v(erb) phrases are phases, and tense and verb phrases are not phases. Other categories such as determiner phrases and applicative phrases have been tested positive for phases. However, no claim is made about the status of prepositional phrases as phases. This paper investigated whether prepositional phrases in English can have the status of a phase as defined in phase theory. It was hypothesised that prepositional phrases are phases of the ‘weak’ kind. To determine the phase status of prepositional phrases, the method of standard phase diagnostics tests such as computational complexity, phonological independence, semantic independence, and case checking, and theta completeness were used. It was found out that computational complexity is not a valid test to test prepositional phrases for phasehood. While prepositional phrases bear very strong evidence to be labelled phases with respect to phonological independence, PPs fail to be phases in the case of semantic independence, and case checking and theta completeness. Given these findings, it was concluded that prepositional phrases in English are phases of the ‘weak’ kind. A sample of sentence constructions in English selected by the author and borrowed from the existing literature were used for the tests to draw conclusions. The study is expected to help better understand and analyze the cognitive processes involved in the acquisition and production of the English language specifically and any language in general.