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A Syntactic and Semantic Study on English and Chinese Ergative Verbs

Author: LiuFang
Tutor: HanJingQuan
School: Central South University
Course: Foreign Linguistics and Applied Linguistics
Keywords: ergative verbs causative alternation syntactic-semantic interface
CLC: H146
Type: Master's thesis
Year: 2010
Downloads: 114
Quote: 1
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Abstract


An ergative verb refers to a verb which can be used either as a transitive verb or an intransitive verb. In ergative languages, the objects of transitive verbs and the subjects of intransitive verbs are marked with the same case. Some linguists treat ergative verbs as unaccusative verbs formulated by Perlmutter (1978) in the Unaccusative Hypothesis. However, as one subset of unaccusative verbs, ergative verbs particularly refer to those that have ergative transitive counterparts and participate in causative alternations. In this thesis, main emphasis will be put on this group of derived unaccusative verbs from the perspective of a syntactic-semantic interface.The grammatical phenomenon of ergativity has drawn great attention in Western linguistics since the proposition of the Unaccusative Hypothesis by Perlmutter in 1978 under the framework of Relational Grammar. Compared with the long-term study carried out by foreign linguists, domestic research on ergative verbs gets a relatively later start and unsystematic condition. Moreover, achievements on the comparative study of English and Chinese ergative verbs are rare. In view of this, the thesis attempts to present a comparative study of ergative verbs in English and Chinese through collecting relatively complete data from two target languages. It aims at producing inspiring insight into the homogeneity and heterogeneity existing between English and Chinese.The syntactic analysis of English and Chinese ergative verbs begins with the transitivity of ergative verbs. Previous studies tend to treat the intransitive variant as basic form and the corresponding causative transitive derived from the former. However, building on previous studies and our data collection, the thesis conducts a syntactic analysis of these two constructions, and demonstrates that ergative intransitive verbs are derived form their causative counterparts in the form of NP movement through the process of decausativization. In English, the NPs must move to preverbal position to check the Case feature, while Chinese allows both preverbal and postverbal case-assignment positions due to the weak EPP feature. Through a comparison between ergatives, passives and middles, the distinguishing features of ergative verbs are highlighted.Ergativity is syntactically encoded and semantically determined, therefore, a systematical semantic analysis on ergative verbs is of most importance to understand ergative verbs more comprehensively. According to the Universal Alignment Hypothesis (Perlmutter & Postal, 1984), the syntactic expression of arguments is always determinable on the basis of the meaning of the verb. The present thesis demonstrates that not all the lexical information is syntactically represented but some semantic elements show relativity and indetermination. Meanwhile, cross-linguistic data reflects individual difference bringing about the inapplicability of some English diagnostics to Chinese ergative alternations. To the question, the thesis proposes the classification and diagnostics for Chinese ergative verbs. Lastly, semantic derivational mechanism and aspectual property of ergative verbs are explored.The contrastive study of English and Chinese ergative verbs shows that they display a marked difference from each other syntactically and semantically in such aspects as the generative mechanism and diagnostics of ergative alternation despite that there exist some similarities between them. The present study attempts to shed some light on later research of English and Chinese ergatives, especially related issues in Chinese.

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CLC: > Language, writing > Chinese > Grammar > Modern,modern syntax
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