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Title: Argument structure and transitivity alternation
Other Titles: Lun yuan jie gou yu ji wu xing jiao ti
Authors: Han, Jingquan (韓景泉)
Department: Dept. of Chinese, Translation and Linguistics
Degree: Doctor of Philosophy
Issue Date: 2007
Publisher: City University of Hong Kong
Subjects: Grammar, Comparative and general -- Syntax
Grammar, Comparative and general -- Transitivity
Notes: CityU Call Number: P295.H33 2007
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 311-336)
Thesis (Ph.D.)--City University of Hong Kong, 2007
viii, 336 leaves ; 30 cm.
Type: Thesis
Abstract: A now widely held position in generative grammar is that a verb’s lexical entry registers some kind of semantically anchored argument structure, which in turn determines the syntactic projection of its arguments. It is believed that the phenomena falling under the label transitivity alternations pose a challenge to the projectionist theory. The thesis presents a discussion of transitivity alternation on the basis of argument structure. The specific types of verbal transitivity alternation under primary consideration are (i) passive alternation, (ii) decausative alternation, (iii) middle alternation, and (iv) unergative-causative alternation. These alternations are characterized by pairs of sentences with the same verb with both transitive and intransitive uses. The main assumption underlying this study is that there is only one basic lexicon entry for each verbal concept and the different forms of the same entry are the outcome of thematic arity operations on argument structure. Passives are derived from corresponding transitive variants by detransitivization. A comparative study shows that Mandarin Chinese passives do not present a problem for the standard theory of passivization. Contrary to previous claims, the two related mechanisms of Case-absorption and dethematization observed in English passivization are both needed to properly account for the syntactic behaviors and derivation of Chinese passive structures. In the light of the central results of the study a model is developed for the generation and representation of both English and Chinese passives. In the study of decausatives, I argue for the view that the transitive causative member of each alternating pair is the base entry in the lexicon, with the intransitive decausative member derived from it by decausativization. When decausativization applies to a lexical entry whose internal argument is a Theme, it derives an unaccusative verb, whose subject is an internal argument. As such, decausative verbs are a subclass of unaccusative verbs. Crucial to the proposed analysis is the assumption of the existence of a null verbal valency-reducing suffix, which attaches to the transitive causative base entry and which has the effect of eliminating the external theta-role altogether and removing the verb’s ability to assign accusative Case. Under the assumption that unaccusative verbs are unable to assign any structural Case to their underlying object, a principled theory is available for passive and unaccusative constructions in both English and Chinese. The mode of explanation proposed for passives and decausatives is readily extended to middles, whose formation also involves the addition of a valency-reducing morpheme, which provides the driving force for the relevant alternations. Like what happens in decausativization, the morpheme also has no phonological realization. It is further suggested that a suppressed argument may undergo argument demotion or argument deletion, accounting for the differences between passives, decausatives and middles. In the previous literature, passives, decausatives and middles have been discussed independently as separate phenomena that raise questions about the descriptive generalizations of each construction. This work, however, will accommodate them with one mechanism. Unergative verbs are standardly taken to be intransitive. But languages like English and Chinese allow a small class of unergatives to form causatives. It is a well-established view that the formation of unergative-causatives is done in the lexicon by a process of lexical causativization. It is shown that this view suffers serious problems. In an alternative account, it is argued that unergative causatives are better analyzed as the result of a syntactic process. There is no compelling reason to assume that all transitivity alternations undergo one and the same operation, and therefore should have the same kind of analysis. Nevertheless, transitivity alternations reflect changes in argument structure and that operations on argument structure respect certain general constraints. The derivations of passives, decausatives, and middles suggest one very important generalization about the operation on argument structure: valency-reduction operations target the external argument, which stands out as the most prominent argument in the structure representation. Argument structure plays a central role in the generation of surface sentence structure, but the structuring is not entirely a matter of lexical semantics, because pragmatic or informational factors also contribute to the presentation of the content of a clause in one particular order rather than another. This work has both interesting empirical consequences and important theoretical implications. Empirically, the discussion gives insight into the properties and structures of passives, decausatives, middles, and unergative-causatives. The study has important theoretical implications with respect to various components and subcomponents of the grammar, such as Case Theory, Theta Criterion, and the lexicon-syntax interface. The proposed research dramatically simplifies and contributes to the characterization of English and Chinese grammars. It also contributes to the proper formulation of the properties of Universal Grammar.
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