Complex causatives and verbal valence

Alexander Williams, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation studies complex causative predicates, like ‘pound flat,’ in relation to a question of verbal valence, with a focus on Igbo, Mandarin, and English. When a noun phrase enters a thematic relation with a nearby verb, does that relation project from the verb, or is it introduced by its structural context? Despite the attention given to this question, its answers are often hard to distinguish empirically. Yet complex causatives can provide a sharp diagnostic for the valence of verbs that occur in them. In English they suggest that agent and patient relations typically project from the verb. In Igbo and Mandarin, they show clearly that the typical verb has no arguments lexically. Agent and patient relations are introduced by structures extrinsic to the verb and, in the case of complex causatives, extrinsic to the complex predicate as a whole. Principles that relate the distribution of arguments to predicate meaning are correspondingly stated over structures larger than individual verb roots. These conclusions simplify the description of thematic interpretation and transitivity alternations in complex causatives, and the account of cross-linguistic differences in these same areas. Theoretically, they underscore one central point. The valence of a verb is not a trivial consequence of its meaning. Verbs that describe the same event can nonetheless differ in the number of participants they have as lexical arguments. The thesis also examines the typology of word order in complex causatives, based on a broad survey of languages, including Malayalam, Japanese, Edo, Vietnamese, Nosu Yi, and others. It shows that variation derives from whether the predicate that describes the result of causation is a head or a phrase.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Williams, Alexander, "Complex causatives and verbal valence" (2005). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3179832.