LANGUAGE VARIATION AND CHANGE IN ANCIENT AND MEDIEVAL EUROPE: Old & Middle English - Old High German - Old Norse - Old Romance - Ancient Greek

ELLY VAN GELDEREN: MODERN THEORIES AND HISTORICAL SYNTAX. THE DIACHRONY OF ARGUMENT STRUCTURE

Sunday, July 28

Elly van Gelderen

(Arizona State University)

 

Modern theories and historical syntax: The diachrony of argument structure

 

In this talk, I explore changes in a verb’s meaning, in particular where inner aspect and theta-roles are concerned. I show that verbs change (i.e. are reanalyzed by the language learner) in predictable ways in that they (mostly) keep their inner aspect constant: telic unaccusatives reanalyze as (telic) causatives and durative unergatives as (durative) transitives but never as causatives or unaccusatives. I also look at the role of outer aspect in possibly facilitating these changes and find little influence. These data provide evidence for a lexical approach to argument structure which sees the inner aspect (Aktionsart) as defining the character of the verb. I then chronicle other changes in the meanings of verbs, e.g. object experiencers to subject experiencers (e.g. fear) and causatives to ditransitives (e.g. bring), and how that affects the inner aspect and theta-structure. Here, there are changes in lexical aspect but again the verbs change in predictable patterns. One aim of the talk is to discuss appropriate methodologies for this kind of work.