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  • An Event Structure Account of English Resultatives
  • Malka Rappaport Hovav and Beth Levin

Current syntactic accounts of English resultatives are based on the assumption that result XPs are predicated of underlying direct objects. This assumption has helped to explain the presence of reflexive pronouns with some intransitive verbs but not others and the apparent lack of result XPs predicated of subjects of transitive verbs. We present problems for and counterexamples to some of the basic assumptions of the syntactic approach, which undermine its explanatory power. We develop an alternative account that appeals to principles governing the well-formedness of event structure and the event structure-to-syntax mapping. This account covers the data on intransitive verbs and predicts the distribution of subject-predicated result XPs with transitive verbs.*

A hallmark of the English resultative construction is the presence of a result XP—an XP denoting a state or location that holds of the referent of an NP in the construction as a result of the action denoted by its verb. Studies of resultatives have often focused on the constraints on the distribution and interpretation of these XPs. These constraints seem to lend themselves to a syntactic explanation, and a number of syntactic accounts have been developed (Bresnan & Zaenen 1990, Hoekstra 1984, 1988, Levin & Rappaport Hovav 1995:33–78, Simpson 1983), with an impressive coverage of the data. Recently, however, Verspoor (1997) and Wechsler (1997) have raised empirical problems for such accounts, and our own investigations have uncovered additional problematic data. These findings call into question the foundation of the syntactic approach to English resultatives. In fact, a number of authors have proposed that the properties of the construction are explained by appeal to semantic notions (e.g. Goldberg 1995: 180–98, Jackendoff 1997, Van Valin 1990:254–55, Wechsler 1997), and in this article we also propose a semantic account. In our semantic account the explanatory burden is borne by event structure representations, well-formedness conditions on these representations, and principles of mapping from event structure to syntactic structure. We show that our event structure account maintains the wide empirical coverage of syntactic accounts, without suffering from their shortcomings. In addition, it illuminates the nature of event structure, as well as its lexical semantic underpinnings.

The success of syntactic accounts rests to a large extent on the adoption of the unaccusative hypothesis (Burzio 1986, Rosen 1981, Levin & Rappaport Hovav 1995, Perlmutter 1978). It has been argued that the distinction between unaccusative and unergative intransitive verbs must be syntactically encoded in order for a uniform generalization to be stated governing the different English resultative patterns, and this observation is considered to provide some of the strongest support for the syntactic encoding of unaccusativity in English (Hoekstra 1984, Levin & Rappaport Hovav 1995: 33–78, Simpson 1983). Much of the data we consider here involves intransitive verbs in the resultative construction. We show that appeal to the unaccusative hypothesis [End Page 766] leaves a number of important questions unanswered. Instead, we propose that the lexical semantics of a verb together with the properties of the event structures it can be associated with can serve as the foundation of an event structure-based analysis. Thus, our account, though not providing direct evidence against the syntactic encoding of unaccusativity, does not require it.

Throughout this article we take our examples, wherever possible, from a collection of over two thousand naturally occurring resultatives. Our collection confirms that the data in previous studies of resultatives quite accurately reflects linguistic reality. Furthermore, it has provided us with data critical to assessing previous analyses of resultatives, to understanding some of their less well-studied properties, and to formulating an improved analysis. Although one referee calls a few of our examples ‘literary’, our sources are not literary in the commonly understood sense of the word. The examples are predominantly culled from daily newspapers and current fiction, particularly mysteries. Our conviction is that ‘real’ examples only strengthen the points we make, just as such examples have contributed to a growing body of recent work.

1. Constraints on the resultative construction: a syntactic formulation

As first observed by Simpson (1983), result XPs in English appear invariably to be predicated of NPs...


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pp. 766-797
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