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Lecture | Com(parative) Syn(tax) Series

On verbal elasticity: the stative-eventive alternation in perception verbs in Germanic

Thursday 5 December 2019
Drinks afterwards at Café de Keyser
Com(parative) Syn(tax) Series
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden


Basing on previous unpublished work, I discuss a—to my knowledge—hitherto undescribed eventstructure alternation affecting perception verbs in Germanic languages. It can be illustrated with the English verb feel:

(1) a. Stacey felt the pocket.
      b. Stacey felt into the pocket.

(1a) is compatible with a scenario where Stacey is just an experiencer and does not feel the pocket deliberately. This interpretation is totally incompatible with (1b), where the addition of a directional PP (or a directional particle like around) induces eventivity (and also agentivity).

I explore the syntactic and semantic properties of this alternation in several Germanic languages and show how some prominent generative approaches to argument/event-structure would have difficulties in explaining it, either because they rely on generalized lexical marking—as in lexicalist approaches like Gisborne's (2010), and also in approaches like Ramchand's (2008, 2018)—or because they take directional PPs to be mere modifiers, rather than structurers, of the event (Borer 2005). I argue that phenomena like that in (1) favour theories on which roots are ordinarily free to be merged in different configurations and where syntax, including directional PPs (and particles), dictates how verbs are interpreted (Acedo-Matellán 2016, Wood & Marantz 2017).


  • Acedo-Matellán, Víctor. 2016. The morphosyntax of transitions: A case study in Latin and other languages. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Borer, Hagit. 2005. Structuring sense, vol. ii: The normal course of events. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Gisborne, Nikolas. 2010. The event structure of perception verbs. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Ramchand, Gillian C. 2008. Verb meaning and the lexicon: A first phase syntax. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Ramchand, Gillian C. 2018. Situations and syntactic structures: Rethinking auxiliaries and order in English. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
  • Wood, Jim & Alec Marantz. 2017. The interpretation of external arguments. In Roberta D’Alessandro, Irene Franco & Ángel J. Gallego (eds.), The verbal domain, 255-278. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Com(parative) Syn(tax) Meetings Autumn/Winter 2019

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