Reference : An alternation study of Dutch psych verbs
Scientific congresses and symposiums : Unpublished conference/Abstract
Arts & humanities : Languages & linguistics
An alternation study of Dutch psych verbs
Pijpops, Dirk mailto [Université de Liège - ULiège > Département de langues modernes : ling., litt. et trad. > Département de langues modernes : ling., litt. et trad. >]
Speelman, Dirk [> >]
New Ways of Analyzing Syntactic Variation
[en] I. INTRODUCTION In Dutch, a number of psych verbs exhibit an alternation between a reflexive (1) and transitive argument construction (2). The present corpus study investigates what factors drive the choice of the language user between these constructions, for the verbs ergeren (‘to annoy’), interesseren (‘to interest’), storen (‘to disturb’) and verbazen (‘to amaze’). (1) Reflexive construction (experiencer-subject) Daar erger ik me groen en geel aan. (CGN) There annoy I myself green and yellow to ‘That greatly annoys me.’ (2) Transitive construction (stimulus-subject) Dit […] ergerde de Romeinen mateloos. (ConDiv) This […] annoyed the Romans excessively ‘This […] excessively annoyed the Romans.’ II. HYPOTHESES A. Agentivity hypothesis The agentivity hypothesis is put forward, be it in varying forms, in quite different theoretical frameworks (a.o. Dowty 1991; Langacker 1995; Pesetsky 1995). It may be summarized as follows. For mental states or events, it is not always clear which of the participants, i.e. the stimulus or experiencer, is more agentive. This causes variation in argument realization. The more agentive participant is assigned subject position. This hypothesis may operate at two levels. At the type level, the agentivity hypothesis states that verbs whose lexical meaning attributes a more agentive role to the experiencer, will be more compatible with experiencer-subject constructions. The operationalization of the agentivity hypothesis at this level is taken over from Van de Velde (2004: 53–55) and embodied by the variable Verb. This operationalization leads us to consider interesseren (‘to interest’) to entail the most agentive experiencer, followed by either ergeren (‘to annoy’) or storen (‘to disturb’), and finally verbazen (‘to amaze’). Preference for the transitive construction is therefore expected to rise from interesseren to either ergeren or storen and finally to verbazen. The second level is the token level. Here, the agentivity hypothesis predicts that given a particular utterance, the language user will put the currently most agentive participant in subject position. The operationalization at the token level is taken over from Levin and Grafmiller (2012) and embodied by the variable Stimulus-Animacy. It predicts that utterances with animate stimuli will prefer the transitive construction, while inanimate objects, especially abstract entities, will prefer the reflexive construction. B. Etymology hypothesis The etymology hypothesis is inspired on Klein and Kutscher (2005), who posit that it’s not the psychological meaning of psych verbs that determines their argument construction, but rather their (ties with a former) physical meaning. Etymological inquiry led us to suspect that storen most strongly favors the transitive construction, followed by either ergeren (‘to annoy’) or verbazen (‘to amaze’), and finally interesseren (‘to interest’). C. Topicality hypothesis The topicality hypothesis is operationalized through the variables Stimulus- and Experiencer-Topicality. These variables present a scale ranging from the first and second persons, to the third person pronouns, the definite nouns and the indefinite nouns. It is expected that preference for object position rises as we go to the end of this scale. III. RESULTS All instances of the four verbs were extracted from the Corpus of Spoken Dutch (CGN, Oostdijk et al. 2002) and the ConDiv corpus (Grondelaers et al. 2000). These instances were manually checked, and a number of them had to be excluded. The resulting dataset contained 1810 occurrences, which were tagged for the hypothesis-driven variables presented above, and number of nuisance variables. Next, a logistic regression model was composed using a stepwise variable selection procedure. The hypothesis-driven variables turned out to be the most important predictors in the model. Their effect plots can be found in Figure 1. The variable Verb does not confirm the agentivity hypothesis at the type-level, nor the etymology hypothesis. Conversely, the variable Stimulus-Animacy does more or less confirm the animacy hypothesis at the token level. The topicality hypothesis is confirmed by Stimulus-Topicality, but Experiencer-Topicality behaves exactly opposite to what was predicted. However, we will show that in retrospect, such behavior might not be as aberrant as it appears on first sight. IV. CONCLUSIONS To end with, we shortly summarize the relevance of this study for theories of argument realization. First, the study has shown that inter- and intralingual generalizations such as the agentivity and topicality hypothesis definitely seem possible (cf. Levin and Rappaport Hovav 2005). Second, our failure to confirm the type level agentivity hypothesis means that caution may be in order when applying the agentivity hypothesis too rigidly at the type level. Finally, the confirmation of the token level agentivity hypothesis seems to indicate that argument constructions do seem to add meaning to utterances, separately from the meaning of the verb (Goldberg 1995; Colleman and De Clerck 2009).

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