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UNACCUSATIVITY: A CONSTRUCTIONAL APPROACH

UNACCUSATIVITY: A CONSTRUCTIONAL APPROACH

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Amy Goodwin Davies. Originally submitted for English Grammar: A Cognitive Account at University of Edinburgh, with lecturer Dr. Graeme Trousdale in the category of Languages & Linguistics
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Amy Goodwin Davies. Originally submitted for English Grammar: A Cognitive Account at University of Edinburgh, with lecturer Dr. Graeme Trousdale in the category of Languages & Linguistics

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
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10/27/2013

 
UA2012
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UNACCUSATIVITY: A CONSTRUCTIONAL APPROACH
Abstract
This paper explores a constructional approach to ‘unaccusativity’ in English.Perlmutter’s ‘Unaccusative Hypothesis’ (henceforth UH) claims that there are two classesof intransitive verbs; unaccusative verbs and unergative verbs (Perlmutter: 1978). TheUH claims each verb has a different underlying syntactic configuration (Alexidiadou etal. 2004: 2).Contra the UH, Cognitive Construction Grammar proposes that the patterns of argumentstructure exist independently of lexical-argument taking predicates, and avoids the claimthat the syntax and semantics are projected from specifications of the main verb (Boas, toappear: 4-5). In a constructional approach constructions are the basic units of language(Goldberg 1995: 4); and no ‘deep structure’ is posited. This paper explores howunaccusative phenomena in English are accounted for by such a constructional approach.The Resultative Construction, The Causative Alternation, and Locative Inversion areunaccusative phenomena that have been well analysed through a Government andBinding Syntactic approach (Levin and Rappaport-Hovav 1995). This paper begins byproviding constructional accounts of these phenomena. It concludes that intransitiveproperty resultative constructions and antitransitive constructions are unaccusative.Locative inversion is not an unaccusative construction because it is subject to pragmaticconstraints.The paper explores these analyses further in discussion of variable verbs and gradience of acceptability, and it questions whether the concept of ‘unaccusativity’ in English cananalysed with a constructional approach. The paper concludes that ‘unaccusativity’ ismeaningful for a constructional approach to English syntax: the necessary and sufficientcondition of an unaccusative construction is that the semantic theme of the verb is thesubject of the verb. Furthermore, it concludes that a single verb can be meaningfullydefined as unaccusative or unergative upon the basis of its ‘bare intransitive’construction, as this determines how it integrates into other constructions.The following are discussed as potential limitations of a constructional approach:overgeneralisation, flexibility, and redundancy. Benefits of a constructional approach areits ability to account for variable verbs, novel forms, gradience in acceptability,ungrammaticality, and idiosyncrasy.This paper concludes that a constructional approach offers a promising analysis of ‘unaccusativity’ in English.
 
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1. Introduction
Perlmutter’s ‘Unaccusative Hypothesis’ (henceforth UH) claims that there are two classesof intransitive verbs: unaccusative verbs and unergative verbs (Perlmutter: 1978). TheUH claims each verb has a different underlying syntactic configuration (Alexidiadou etal. 2004: 2)
1
. In ‘Government and Binding’ theory an unaccusative verb projects a deepstructure object and no subject, whereas an unergative verb projects a deep structuresubject and no object (Chomsky 1981).
Unergative verb:
NP [
VP
V]
Unaccusative verb:
__ [
VP
V NP] (L&RH 1995: 3)However, in a constructional approach constructions are the basic units of language(Goldberg 1995: 4); and no ‘deep structure’ is posited. Cognitive Construction Grammarproposes that the patterns of argument structure exist independently of lexical-argumenttaking predicates, and avoids the claim that the syntax and semantics are projected from

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In its original formulation it makes two claims (Sorace 2004: 243):First, the single argument of unaccusative verbs is an underlying direct object, and displayssyntactic properties of direct objects of transitive verbs; the single argument of unergative verbs isa subject at all levels of representation and thus displays syntactic properties of the subject of transitive verbs. Second, this distinction is systematically related to the semantic characteristics of the predicate: agentivity correlates with unergativity and patienthood correlates withunaccusativity (Perlmutter 1978; Dowty 1991).
 
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specifications of the main verb (Boas, to appear: 4-5). In this paper I consider howunaccusative phenomena
2
in English are accounted for by such a constructional approach.Levin and Rappaport-Hovav (henceforth L&RH) (1995) discuss three grammaticalphenomena of English with relation to ‘unaccusativity’:
1.
 
The Resultative Construction (Section 2)2.
 
The Causative Alternation
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(Section 3)3.
 
Locative Inversion (Section 4)
In sections 2-4 I discuss these constructions in turn. In section 5 I consider variable verbsand gradience of acceptability. In section 6 I consider how the concept of ‘unaccusativity’in English can be analysed by a constructional approach and furthermore the benefits andlimitations of this approach. Section 8 concludes.

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‘Unaccusative phenomena’ are broadly defined as the grammatical aspects of a languageaccounted for by the UH within a generative framework.
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The Causative Alternation is not a construction, but a term given to the systematiccorrespondence between a lexical causative verb construction and an antitransitive constructionwhich have the same main verb and in which the object of the lexical causative and the subject of the antitransitive are both the theme.

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