LINGUIST List 15.670

Mon Feb 23 2004

Diss: Syntax: D'Alessandro: 'Impersonal si...'

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  1. robertadal, Impersonal si constructions. Agreement and interpretation

Message 1: Impersonal si constructions. Agreement and interpretation

Date: Sat, 21 Feb 2004 13:17:15 -0500 (EST)
From: robertadal <>
Subject: Impersonal si constructions. Agreement and interpretation

Institution: University of Stuttgart
Program: Department of Linguistics and English
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2004

Author: Roberta A.G. D'Alessandro 

Dissertation Title: Impersonal si constructions. Agreement and

Dissertation URL:

Linguistic Field: Syntax 

Subject Language: Italian (code: ITN )

Dissertation Director 1: Artemis Alexiadou
Dissertation Director 2: Ian Roberts
Dissertation Director 3: Luigi Rizzi

Dissertation Abstract: 

This dissertation investigates the syntax of impersonal si
constructions (ISC henceforth) in Italian in a minimalist framework,
focusing on their peculiar agreement patterns and on their

Impersonal si introduces a generic, unspecified subject in a
clause. Impersonal si constructions present a number of puzzling
properties which have often been considered as idiosyncratic or
accidental. They exhibit peculiarities in their agreement patterns,
both in the present tense and in the past tense. Moreover, they
present consistent variability in interpretation.

The aim of the present work is twofold: on the one hand, I attempt to
provide an explanation for previously overlooked phenomena involving
ISCs, such as the transitive agreement alternation, the person
restriction on the object, and past participle agreement with
unergative and unaccusative verbs and in copular constructions. On the
other hand, I wish to contribute to the development of current
syntactic theory by showing the necessity of considering additional
syntactic features, which I call sigma-features, that encode
semantic/deictic information. Moreover, I propose an additional
syntactic operation: Concord, which targets precisely these
semantico-pragmatic features and locally determines adjectival and
participial agreement. Concord is complementary to Chomsky's Agree,
targets a different feature set, and is active on a phrasal domain.

Up to now, verbal semantics or Aktionsart has been hardly taken into
account in the literature on ISCs. The present work is framed in such
a way as to capture the contribution that verbal semantics offers to
the agreement patterns of ISCs. More specifically, assuming that
verbal semantics is reflected in the syntax of a VP, I show that the
semantic configuration determines the agreement patterns of ISCs.

A large part of this work is also devoted to the interpretation of
ISCs: ISCs may be interpreted as generic, existential, or
inclusive. The reference set that si selects may be a purely generic
one (generic reading), or there may be a group of people satisfying
the property expressed by the predicate (existential). This group may
be specified for inclusiveness (inclusive), i.e. it may include the
speaker, or it may not. This work is aimed at identifying the causes
for the generic/inclusive alternation. A pragmatico-syntactic analysis
for the phenomenon of inclusiveness is also provided.

The present work is organized in 5 chapters, which address different
aspects of Italian ISCs. Chapter 1 offers an introduction to the
theoretical background assumed. In this chapter, the problem of
semantic agreement is also considered. Chapter 2 addresses the problem
of the agreement alternation between transitive ISCs with verb-object
agreement and transitive ISCs without verb-object agreement. The two
constructions are shown to encode different Aktionsarten
-accomplishment vs. activity-, and therefore to present different
agreement patterns as a result of the accomplishment-activity
alternation. Chapter 3 deals with the so-called
unaccusative-unergative puzzle. Chapter 4 examines the person
restriction on the object of transitive ISCs. An interesting parallel
is drawn with Icelandic quirky dative constructions, which also
exhibit this restriction, and Italian psych verbs, which don't.
Chapter 5 provides an explanation for the inclusive reading of
ISCs. Inclusive reading is shown to be determined by temporal
boundedness. The proposal is made that impersonal si is interpreted as
a 1st person plural pronoun by means of a link with the Speech Act
projection according to a mechanism recently proposed by Bianchi
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