Unaccusative Hypothesis’ (UH in sh" />
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A Cognitive Constructional Account of Unaccusative Phenomena in English and Chinese

Author: WangJianWei
Tutor: ZuoXiaoQuan
School: Fudan University
Course: English Language and Literature
Keywords: Unaccusative Hypothesis Thematic role Eventuality Unaccusative Unergative Construction Coercion Transitivity Intransitivity
CLC: H314
Type: PhD thesis
Year: 2008
Downloads: 541
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Systematic studies on the classification of intransitive predicates based on syntactic and semantic properties began with the ’Unaccusative Hypothesis' dissertation">Unaccusative Hypothesis’ (UH in short) proposed by relational grammarians in the late 1970s, which has been later adopted in the transformational generative grammar founded by Chomsky as the bedrock and primitive syntactic configurations for different types of intransitive predicates. According to the UH, intransitive predicates do not constitute a homogeneous class, either syntactically or semantically, and they should be divided into unaccusative and unergative ones. Unaccusative intransitive verbs project only an internal argument, which occupies the D-object position in the initial level of grammatical representation, and emerges as the surface subject due to the interference of independent syntactic principles such as exceptional projection principle (EPP). In contrast, unergative intransitive verbs project only an external argument, which occupies the subject position throughout the grammatical derivational process. In terms of semantic attributes, the internal argument of unaccusative verbs usually carries the thematic role of patient or theme, whereas the external argument of unergative verbs is associated with the agent thematic role.The UH commands a significant theoretical value as it helps defend the long-cherished principle of generative grammar that advocates the dominance of syntactic structures in assigning semantic values to arguments in the sentences, i.e., the same type of thematic roles should only be assigned by the same syntactic configurations, which means that the agent thematic role can only be found with arguments occupying the D-subject position, and thematic roles such as patient or theme can only be assigned to arguments located at the D-object position. Although with a history of only less than thirty years and a strong theoretical inclination towards the derivational grammatical model, the dichotomous classification formulated in the UH has attracted the interest of scholars from different linguistic schools as cross-linguistic studies show many grammatical structures are seemingly sensitive to the unaccusative-unergative distinction. These grammatical structures, which are named as the ’unaccusative diagnostics’ in the literature, include impersonal passives in Dutch and German, perfective auxiliary choices in Dutch, Italian and German, ne-cliticization in Italian, to name just a few. The distributional patterns of verbs in the resultative, existential, pseudo-passive constructions as well as transitivity alternations in English and Chinese are also argued to reflect this unaccusative-unergative distinction.However, the UH is also regarded as a highly contentious and controversial topic due to the rampant occurrences of unaccusativity mismatches, as this distinction is not only language-specific in the specific formal details of its manifestation but also language-specific in its semantic makeup.The present dissertation aims to provide a cognitive constructional account of the distributional patterns of verbs entering into the resultative, existential, pseudo-passive constructions and transitivity alternations while questioning the validity of the UH in these four grammatical structures, arguing that analyses based on the unaccusative-unergative distinction render horrendous complexity in predicting the possible types of verbs compatible with the four constructions. The possible verb types that appear with these four constructions are discussed in line with how their lexical semantics align with the constructional meaning of the four sentence-level grammatical constructions, and the unaccusative-unergative restrictions proposed by the approaches following the UH are shown to be inaccurate as they fall short of accounting for the full range of data.This dissertation consists of five chapters. Chapter 1 introduces a number of key concepts with respect to the UH. It also presents the rationale, objective, research methodology and structural organization of the current research. Chapter 2 offers a review of relevant literature by summarizing previous research methodologies and the status quo in the analyses of unaccusative phenomena. It points out that previous studies, be they following the approach of lexical semantics or derivational syntactic frameworks, are all heavily influenced by the transitive-schema-based view of intransitive sentences, which cannot adequately explain unaccusativity mismatches, consequently failing to offer a complete and convincing account of the distributional patterns of verbs in these so-called unaccusative diagnostics. Chapter 3 gives a constructional account of the distributional patterns of verbal predicates in the resultative, existential and pseudo-passive constructions in English and Chinese. Chapter 4 works out a cognitive explanation for transitivity alternations in English and Chinese. Chapter 5 draws a conclusion of the current study and offers the achievements, implications and limitations of the current study.The current research has the following three features in comparison with previous analyses based on the UH:First, it zooms in upon the interface between meaningful constructions and lexical semantics. Previous researches are mostly focused on the movement of arguments in grammatical derivations, taking the interface between D-structure syntax and lexicon as the research target while neglecting that overt grammatical constructions have their own independent semantics and discourse functions, which determine the possible types of verbs co-occurring with these constructions.Secondly, the current research offers a more accurate generalization of the distributional patterns of verbs in the so-called unaccusative diagnostics by avoiding the duplication of lexical entries in the lexicon.Thirdly, it presents a systematic criticism of the validity of the UH, arguing that it is inappropriate to describe the syntactic and semantic properties of intransitive clauses in line with models based on the transitive grammatical structures.

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