LINGUIST List 16.668

Mon Mar 07 2005

Diss: Semantics/Syntax: Lekakou: 'In the Middle ... '

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        1.    Marika Lekakou, In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated. The semantics of middles and its crosslinguistic realization


Message 1: In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated. The semantics of middles and its crosslinguistic realization

Date: 07-Mar-2005
From: Marika Lekakou <m.lekakouucl.ac.uk>
Subject: In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated. The semantics of middles and its crosslinguistic realization


Institution: University of London
Program: PhD Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2005

Author: Marika Lekakou

Dissertation Title: In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated. The semantics of middles and its crosslinguistic realization

Linguistic Field(s): Semantics
                            Syntax

Subject Language(s): Dutch (DUT)
                            English (ENG)
                            French (FRN)
                            German, Standard (GER)
                            Greek (GRK)

Dissertation Director:
Ad Neeleman
Neil Smith

Dissertation Abstract:

This study explores the semantics of personal middle constructions and the
ways in which it is encoded across languages. In Dutch, German and English,
middles are syntactically unergative and the implicit Agent is
syntactically inert. In Greek and French, middles are syntactically
indistinguishable from generic (reflexive) passives: they exhibit a derived
subject and a syntactically represented Agent. What unites the two types of
middle is the interpretation they receive. The cross-linguistic variation
invites the following question: what determines the choice of structure
employed to convey the middle interpretation?

Any attempt to address this question requires a characterization of the
middle interpretation itself. I make the following novel proposal: middles
ascribe a dispositional property to the understood object. Disposition
ascriptions are subject-oriented generic sentences. The core properties
that middles share across languages follow: the genericity of an otherwise
eventive predicate; the promotion to subject position by syntactic movement
or base-generation, and the interpretation of the otherwise internal
argument; the demotion and interpretation of the otherwise external argument.

The crosslinguistic variation relates to the following two factors. First,
the different means available to languages to encode genericity distinguish
between unergative and unaccusative/passive middles. Unaccusative/passive
middles obtain in languages like French and Greek, which encode genericity
in the morphosyntax in the form of imperfective aspect. Languages where
genericity is not expressed by aspectual morphology, i.e. German, Dutch and
English, employ unergative structures. An additional factor at play within
Germanic is the nature of the anaphoric system. I propose to attribute the
illicitness of zich in middles to the nature of the Dutch reflexive
paradigm, which includes a complex anaphor, zichzelf. In the absence of a
complex anaphor in German, sich can function as an argument but also as a
marker of valency reduction; its occurence in middles is expected. The
approach makes predictions for other structures besides middles, i.e.
anticausatives and inherent reflexives, and for other Germanic languages,
such as Afrikaans and Frisian.



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