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Summary Details

Query:   Unaccusative, Reflexive, and Non-reflexive
Author:  Konrad Szczesniak
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Syntax

Summary:   Regarding query:

Dear Linguists,

Some time ago, I posted a query asking for equivalents of the following
''double causative'' phenomenon in Polish. A few dozen Polish unaccusative
verbs have two inchoative / intransitive forms: one reflexive marked by
''sie''; the other being non-reflexive and less directly related to the

TRANS: Dziecko zamrozilo mleko. [inf: ''zamrozic''] (The child froze the milk)
INTR#1: Mleko zamrozilo sie. [inf: ''zamrozic sie''] (Milk froze REFL)
INTR#2: Mleko zamarzlo. [inf: ''zamarznac''] (Milk froze NONREFL)

This duality has interesting implications for the causative analysis of
unaccusative verbs. Levin and Rappaport analyze the intransitive form of
unaccusative verbs as inherently causative and view the transitive as a
more basic of the two variants. This analysis is given support by most
known reflexives in languages studied, including the Polish ''sie'', but
the non-reflexive INTR#2 poses a problem, as it fails to alternate:

Mleko zamarzlo. (Milk froze NONREFL)
*Dziecko zamarzlo mleko. (The child froze NONREFL the milk)

There are many other such non-reflexive unaccusative verbs which all fail
to participate in the causative alternation in Polish.

Estonian and Finnish are similar in this respect. These languages both have
the causative alternation, but they do not use reflexive verbs. Although
the following inchoative/intransitive forms could be regarded as
functionally reflexive, they are actually more like the Polish INTR#2 - the
Finnish and Estonian inchoatives are also regularly related to the
transitive but not by a simple attachment of a reflexive, and like in
Polish, the intransitive cannot be used transitively without a thorough
morphological regrouping:

The door opened / I opened the door.
Estonian: Uks avanes / Ma avasin ukse [inf: ''avanema'' / ''avama'']
Finnish: Ovi avautui. / Avasin oven. [inf: ''avautua'' / ''avata'']

The house burned (down) / Hooligans burned (down) the house.
Estonian: Maja põles (maha) / Huligaanid põletasid maja (maha) [inf:
''põlema'' / ''põletama'']
Finnish: Talo paloi. / Huligaanit polttivat talon. [inf: ''palaa'' /

The clothes dried / I dried the clothes.
Estonian: Riided kuivasid / Ma kuivatasin riideid [inf: ''kuivama'' /
Finnish: Vaatteet kuivuivat. / (Minä) kuivatin vaatteet. [inf: ''kuivua'' /

The ice melted / I melted the ice.
Estonian: Jää sulas / Ma sulatasin jääd [inf: ''sulama'' / ''sulatama'']
Finnish: Jää suli. / Sulatin jään. [inf: ''sulaa'' / ''sulattaa'']

In Galician and in Portuguese, many verbs allow both transitive and
intransitive uses without the reflexive particle in the intransitive pattern:

The flowers withered / The weather withered the flowers.
Galician: As flores murcháron(se) / O tempo murchou as flores.
Portuguese: As flores murcharam(-se) / O tempo murchou as flores.

The reflexive ''se'' in Brazilian Portuguese intransitive unaccusative
verbs differs in one important way from its Polish equivalent. While in
Polish its use is required in alternating unaccusative verbs, in Portuguese
can be freely dropped in less formal contexts without consequences for its
transitive use:

The water evaporated / Professor Sousa evaporated the water.
A água evaporou(-se) / Professor Sousa evaporou a água.

The water froze / The winter froze the water.
A água congelou(-se) / O inverno congelou a água.

The glass broke / Paul broke the glass.
O vidro partiu(-se) / O Paulo partiu o vidro.

I wish to thank the following colleagues for their examples and
suggestions: Matthew Anstey, Roberto Barros de Carvalho, José M.
García-Miguel, Pia Hannukainen, Cássio Leite Vieira, and Katre Talviste.

Konrad Szczesniak
Institute of English
Silesian University

LL Issue: 16.1202
Date Posted: 15-Apr-2005
Original Query: Read original query


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