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Review of  The Unaccusativity Puzzle

Reviewer: Alexandra Galani
Book Title: The Unaccusativity Puzzle
Book Author: Artemis Alexiadou Elena Anagnostopoulou Martin Everaert
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 15.3212

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Date: 09 Nov 2004 23:06:11 +0000
From: Alexandra Galani
Subject: The Unaccusativity Puzzle: Explorations of the Syntax-Lexicon

EDITORS: Alexiadou, Artemis; Anagnostopoulou, Elena; Everaert, Martin
TITLE: The Unaccusativity Puzzle
SUBTITLE: Explorations of the Syntax-Lexicon Interface
SERIES: Oxford Studies in Theoretical Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2003

Alexandra Galani, Department of Language and Linguistic Science,
University of York


This volume is a collection of twelve papers on unaccusativity, along with
an introductory chapter. The book has its origin in a workshop on
unaccusativity held in Berlin (1998) but it includes contributions which
were not presented at that event. The discussions vary from semantic
versus syntactic approaches to the phenomenon, unaccusativity diagnostics,
what determines verb classification, thematic roles and the importance of
special morphology in relation to unaccusative predicates, to the
properties of unaccusatives in (second) language acquisition.

In what follows, I give a brief summary of what is discussed in each paper
and make only some general remarks. I only aim to give an overall view of
the volume as a whole and not discuss any insufficiencies individual
papers may present.

Introduction (pp. 1-21) Artemis Alexiadou, Elena Anagnostopoulou and
Martin Everaert

This chapter introduces the volume. It sets off with the theoretical
background of the Unaccusative Hypothesis (cf. Perlmutter 1978), the
diagnostics for determining the unaccusative/unergative pattern and
unaccusativity mismatches. The authors then discuss the lexicon-syntax
interface in relation to unaccusativity by making a short reference to the
levels of representation, the Universal Alignment Hypothesis (Perlmutter
and Postal 1984), the syntax of unaccusativity (cf. Larson 1988) as well
as the study of unaccusativity in language acquisition (cf. van Hout et al
1993). The last part of the chapter discusses briefly the contributions in
the volume and highlights links between them.

Chapter 1: A semantics for unaccusatives and its syntactic consequences
(pp. 22-59) by Gennaro Chierchia

In Chierchia's semantic algebra theory, properties are considered
primitives and predication serves as the link between them and their
arguments. Truth conditions are recursively specified. He assumes the
Predication Principle to interpret the mapping of LF to lf. According to
the principle, features of unaccusatives are also captured; verbs should
have specific characteristics, such as that their arguments should be
within the VP and associated with an expletive subject. Moreover, he
claims that unaccusatives instantiate a type of reflexivisation. In this
way, he accounts for a number of patterns; the unstable pattern of
valence, the association of unaccusatives with reflexive morphology and
the aspectual properties of unaccusatives. The theory finally leads to a
reformulation of the auxiliary selection rule in Italian. The paper is
generally well-presented and argued. The parts of the discussion which
might require a fair amount of brain twist benefit from the rich
exemplification and the set out of the paper in small sections.

Chapter 2: Unaccusativity as telicity checking (pp. 60-83) by Angeliek van

According to van Hout, telicity is a property of unaccusativity. Based on
evidence from two-argument verbs in Dutch, she further claims that the
single argument of verbs moves (the movement is only triggered with telic
predicates) to the specifier of AgrS through the specifier of AgrO (AgrOP
being the locus of telicity checking) and unaccusativity reflects this
mapping. The way transitivity and telicity interact is explained via a
semantic feature checking mechanism in the lexicon-syntax interface. She
predicts that telic single-argument predicates are unaccusative. Moreover,
the unergative-unaccusative pattern is seen in a parallel fashion to the
telic-atelic one on the basis of two unaccusative diagnostics in Dutch;
auxiliary selection and prenominal perfect participles. The discussion is
rounded off with a comparison between her theory and other theories of
unaccusativity. The data is clearly set out and the analysis follows
straightforwardly from it. There are a couple of points which have not
been explored (as for instance, the reasons for which auxiliary selection
and participles serve as unaccusativity diagnostics as well as whether
this theory holds cross-linguistically) but van Hout refers to them
briefly in the conclusion of the paper.

Chapter 3: Unergative adjectives and psych verbs (pp. 84-113) by Hans

Bennis offers a purely syntactic analysis of unaccusativity. His starting
point is the representation of arguments; light v introduces the external
argument, following Chomsky (1995), which he then uses to implement
Burzio's generalisation. He suggests that v assigns accusative case and
introduces the external argument. He identifies two constructions; one
where the v-P is absent and there is no external argument and the second
where there is a v-P but there is not an external argument (cases of
ergativity), along with constructions where there is a v-P as well as an
external argument (transitive cases). Moreover, he claims that there are
three types of unaccusative adjectives (adjectives with an external
argument, complex and simplex adjectives) and these configurations can be
further extended to Belletti and Rizzi's (1988) class of verbs. Bennis
offers an interesting approach to the phenomenon which is worth reading.

Chapter 4: Voice morphology in the causative-inchoative alternation:
Evidence for a non-unified structural analysis of unaccusatives (pp. 114-
136) by Artemis Alexiadou and Elena Anagnostopoulou

Alexiadou and Anagnostopoulou discuss the distribution of voice morphology
in relation to detransitivisation in the causative-inchoative alternation.
They investigate consistency and gaps in detransitivising morphology as
well as the syntactic and semantic properties of the detransitivising
morphemes in Greek. They argue that there are three types of
anticausatives depending on the XP embedded under BECOME/RESULT; an
AdjectiveP, a VoiceP and a possessive construction. Consequently, they
claim that anticausatives do not have a unified structure. The paper is
elegant, well-argued and reads easily, whereas the data is also well-
presented and discussed.

Chapter 5: Unaccusative syntax and verbal alternations (pp. 137-158) by
David Embick

Embick discusses unaccusatives, passives and reflexives from a
morphosyntactic point of view by looking at u-syncretism (morphological
syncretism) within Distributed Morphology (Halle and Marantz 1993). He
proposes that the common pattern they share is a syntactic property which
is seen as the absence of an external argument. He further claims that u-
syncretism also shows in cases where morphology is underspecified with
respect to syntax. Embick draws data mainly from Greek, Fula and
Tolkapaya. The discussion is generally straightforward and accessible.
Some of the questions which remain open (such as the possibility of the
existence of a uniform syntactic structure for constructions with
reflexive interpretations) are discussed in the final section of the paper.

Chapter 6: Against an unaccusative analysis of reflexives (pp. 159-180) by
Tanya Reinhart and Tal Siloni

In this paper, Reinhart and Siloni argue against the unaccusative analyses
of reflexives. They claim that reflexive verbs and unaccusatives are
derived from their transitive ones via a reduction operation. The
differences identified between French-type and Hebrew-type reflexives are
attributed to the lexicon or the syntax, the components in which the
reduction operation is applied, respectively. The authors argue fairly
convincingly for the stand they take.

Chapter 7: Unaccusatives and anticausatives in German (pp. 181-206) by
Markus Steinbach

The derivation of anticausatives in German is discussed in Steinbach's
paper. He claims that transitive reflexive sentences have a reflexive,
middle and inherent-reflexive interpretation. Crucially the difference
between these types is not syntactic but lies on the semantic/thematic
interpretation. The theory (a modified version of binding theory) is based
on the distinction between nominative and accusative versus dative case in

Chapter 8: Syntactic unaccusativity in Russian (pp. 207-242) by Maaike

Schoorlemmer argues for a syntactic approach to unaccusativity and
provides two diagnostics for the phenomenon in Russian. She further argues
against the direct mapping approach to the unaccusative-unergative pattern
by showing that the semantic feature related is also relevant in other
syntactic constructions and not only in determining the argument
projection in non-transitive verbs. A linking rule deriving unaccusative
verbs in Russian has also been looked at. Overall, the paper is relatively
elegant and nicely presented, although certain points -- in some cases in
relation to the data as well as the section on the linking rules -- could
have been justified in greater detail.

Chapter 9: Gradience at the lexicon-syntax interface: Evidence from
auxiliary selection and implications for unaccusativity (pp. 243-268) by
Antonella Sorace

Sorace looks in to the Auxiliary Selection Hierarchy (ASH) and proposes
that it captures the variation intransitive verbs exhibit in relation to
auxiliary selection based on evidence drawn from Italian. She proposes
that telicity and agentivity are the main features of ASH and define a
structure hierarchy of verb types on the basis of aspectual relations. She
further examines the predictions which are made for first and second-
language acquisition theories. It is an interesting and solid piece of

Chapter 10: Unaccusativity in Saramaccan: The syntax of resultatives (pp.
269-287) by Tonjes Veenstra

The author investigates the syntax of the resultative constructions and
argues for a unified analysis of their syntax in languages with or without
serialisation. He mainly analyses resultatives expressed in serial-verb
constructions in Saramaccan and concludes that transitive verbs are not
the only types which appear in resultative serial-verb constructions.
Veenstra presents a large amount of data which he discusses
satisfactorily. The paper, though, concludes with an analysis which could
have been justified in greater detail. The addition of a concluding
section could have also given a smoother touch to (the end of) the paper.

Chapter 11: The grammar machine (pp. 288-331) by Hagit Borer

Borer discusses the acquisition of unaccusativity based on an argument-
structure approach. She argues that argument and event structures are
independent of the vocabulary, the items of which -dominated by verb
functions -- are seen as modifiers. She further claims that children have
a syntactic knowledge of argument and event structure projections which is
not related to the knowledge of vocabulary. Finally, she proposes that two
development stages exist; the morphophonological and the morphosyntactic
stages. Data is drawn from Hebrew. The discussion unfolds nicely and flows
throughout. In this paper, the question which remains open ("the recovery
from the morphosyntactic stage leading to adult performance", pp.330) is
acknowledged in the concluding section.

Chapter 12: Acquiring unaccusatives: A cross-linguistic look (pp. 332-353)
by Janet Randall, Angeliek van Hout, J├╝rgen Weissenborn and Harald Baayen

The authors discuss the acquisition of unaccusatives in Dutch and German
and conclude that semantic factors -- telicity and actor -- determine
unaccusativity. They further formulate two linking rules; the telicity
linking rules classify verbs as unaccusatives, whereas the actor linking
rule as unergatives. Nevertheless, in cases where both telicity and actor
are present, the telicity linking rule takes precedence over the actor
linking rule. They account for this pattern in terms of the geometry of
the rules' conceptual structure representation. It is a well-presented
piece of work, although the second section of the paper could have been
enriched for the readers' better understanding.


The editors bring together many different threads to the analysis of the
phenomenon of unaccusativity. A wide range of data is covered and cross-
references are well-managed.

A couple of references are missing from the references section (for
example, Zombolou in progress) but this should not undermine the value and
the high quality of the work put by the authors and the editors.

Despite the very high standard of the papers, the volume reads easily, is
well-organised, coherent, user-friendly and consistent. It is convincingly
challenging, high in the quality and interest of each chapter and complete
in the sense it addresses all the questions it was designed for.


Belleti, A. and Rizzi, L. (1988). "Psych verbs and theta theory". Natural
Language and Linguistic Theory, 6:3;291-352.

Chomsky, N. (1995). The minimalist program. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Halle and Marantz. (1993). "Distributed Morphology and the pieces of
inflection". In K. Hale and J.S. Kayser (Eds.) The view from building 20:
Essays in honour of Sylvain Bromberger. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 111-

Larson, R. (1988). "On the double object construction". Linguistic Inquiry

Perlmutter, D. (1978). "Impersonal passives and the unaccusative
hypothesis". Papers from the annual meeting of the Berkeley Linguistic
Society, 4:157-819.

Perlmutter, D. and Postal, P. (1984). "The I-advancement exclusiveness
law". In Perlmutter and Rosen (Eds.) Studies in relational grammar.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Van Hout, A., Randall, J. and Weissenborn, J. (1993). "Acquiring the
unergative-unaccusative distinction". In M. Verrips and F. Wijnem (Eds.)
The acquisition of Dutch. Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam, 79-120.


Alexandra Galani is a member of the Department of Language and Linguistic
Science at the University of York (England). She is working on the
morphosyntax of tense and aspect in Modern Greek within Distributed
Morphology. Her main research interests are: syntax/morphology interface,
morphology/phonology interface, allomorphy, suppletion and the lexicon.