Article published in:The Limits of Syntactic Variation
Edited by Theresa Biberauer
[Linguistik Aktuell/Linguistics Today 132] 2008
► pp. 247–294
Aspect matters in the middle
This paper addresses the variation that the middle construction attestscross-linguistically. In one class of languges middles behave as passives,whereas in another class they pattern with unergative structures. Myproposal is that this variation is not accidental, and that it reduces tovariation in the morphosyntax of aspect. I put forward a semantic treatmentof middles as disposition ascriptions to a Patient/Theme argument. I thenshow how the morphosyntax of the dispositional generic operator that isargued to be present in such structures determines the syntactic behaviourof middles. Genericity may be morphosyntactically encoded by means ofgrammatical aspect, in particular in languages where such aspectualdistinctions as perfective/imperfective exist. The proposal is that the levelat which the generic operator is present correlates with the level at whichmiddles are derived. For instance, in Greek and French, genericity ismorphosyntactically encoded and middles are parasitic on passives. Insuch languages, middles are derived in the syntax, in virtue of the availabilityin the syntax of the relevant operator. In Germanic languages, by contrast,aspectual distinctions are not encoded in the morphosyntax, and middlesare syntactically unergative. This is implemented in terms of a presyntacticderivation.
Published online: 17 September 2008