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Show full table of contents General introduction

This section provides the general background against which the discussion of the several types of psych-verbs will be situated, subsection I starts by way of introduction with a discussion of the nature of the arguments that can be found with psychological predicates in general, subsection II continues with a brief introduction to the psych-verb types that will be investigated in Sections and, subsection III concludes with some brief remarks on verb frame alternations in the domain of psych-verbs.

[+]  I.  The arguments of psychological predicates

This subsection discusses the semantic roles of the various arguments that can be found with psychological predicates. We intentionally do not use the term psych-verb here, since we will clarify these roles by means of clauses containing the psych-adjective boos'angry', which denotes the property of being in a specific mental state. The five different kinds of arguments in (413) can be found in clauses containing a psychological predicate; cf. Pesetsky (1995).

Example 413
Arguments that can co-occur with psychological predicates
a. Experiencer
b. Target of emotion
c. Subject matter of emotion
d. Causer of emotion (= Agent)
e. Cause of emotion
[+]  A.  Experiencer

Every psychological predicate has an obligatory argument that can be referred to as experiencer, that is, it has an obligatory argument that experiences or is in the mental state denoted by the predicate. In the case of psych-adjectives like boos'angry', the experiencer is the external argument of the adjective.

Example 414
JanExp is boos.
  Jan  is angry
[+]  B.  Target and subject matter of emotion

Mental states are often directed towards some entity in the sense that they imply a positive or negative evaluation of this entity. The entity to which this evaluation applies will be referred to as the target of emotion. In the case of the psych-adjective boos, the target is expressed by means of a PP-complement headed by op, as shown by (415a). Besides a target of emotion a psych-adjective can also have a subject matter of emotion, which is expressed by means of a PP-complement headed by over, as shown in (415b). Although the target and the subject matter of emotion are sometimes difficult to distinguish, the distinction is real since the two can be expressed simultaneously, as is shown by (415c).

Example 415
a. JanExp is boos op MarieTarget.
  Jan  is  angry  at Marie
b. JanExp is boos over die opmerkingSubjM.
  Jan  is  angry  about that remark
c. JanExp is boos op MarieTarget over die opmerkingSubjM.
  Jan  is  angry  at Marie  about that remark

It can further be noted that psychological predicates may differ in whether they allow a target or a subject matter of emotion to be present. An adjective like bezorgd'worried', for example, may take a subject matter but not a target of emotion, whereas an adjective like verliefd'in love' is only compatible with a target of emotion.

Example 416
a. Jan is bezorgd (*op de regeringTarget) over de luchtverontreinigingSubjM.
  Jan is worried      at the government  about the air pollution
b. Jan is verliefd op MarieTarget (*over haar ogenSubjM).
  Jan is in-love  with Marie     about her eyes

Given that it is not always easy to decide whether a specific complement functions as the target or the subject matter of emotion, we will occasionally use the more neutral term object of emotion as a cover term for the two.

[+]  C.  Causer and cause of emotion

Not only can emotions target or be concerned with some entity, they can also be triggered by something. The trigger of the emotion will be referred to as the causer or cause of emotion. The two notions differ in that the term causer is used if the argument is actively involved in triggering the emotion (agentive), whereas the term cause does not imply any activity. This difference is responsible for the fact that causers, like Peter in (417a), are normally +animate entities, whereas causes, like die opmerkingen'those remarks' in (417b), can also be -animate. The causer and cause can be expressed simultaneously, but then the cause must be expressed by means of an adjunct-PP, which is typically headed by met'with' or door'by'.

Example 417
a. PeterCauser maakt JanExp boos.
  Peter makes  Jan  angry
b. Die opmerkingenCause maken JanExp boos.
  those remarks  make  Jan  angry
c. PeterCauser maakt JanExp boos met/door zijn opmerkingenCause.
  Peter  makes  Jan  angry  with/by his remarks

Causers and causes can readily be confused with objects of emotion, but are nevertheless distinct. Although (417a) is compatible with a reading according to which Jan's anger is directed towards Peter, this need not be the case: it might also be the case that Peter is doing something which makes Jan angry at something or someone else, that is, all that is required for the sentence to be true is that there is a causal relation between Peter and Jan's anger. Similarly, the remarks may be the subject matter of emotion in (417b), but it may also be the case that the remarks trigger anger on some other matter. Clear cases in which the causer/cause should be distinguished from the object (subject matter/target) of emotion are given in (418).

Example 418
a. PeterCauser maakt JanExp met zijn verhalenCause bang voor spokenSubjM.
  Peter  makes  Jan with his stories  afraid  of ghosts
b. Dat soort verhalenCause maken JanExp altijd kwaad op de regeringTarget.
  that kind [of] stories  make  Jan  always  angry  at the government
[+]  D.  The syntactic realization of the semantic roles of psych-predicates

There are several limitations on the syntactic realization of the semantic roles discussed in Subsection II. The examples in (415) and (417) in the two previous subsections have already shown that an experiencer can be either subject or object, depending on which other semantic roles are expressed. The target or subject matter of emotion is realized as a complement: in the case of an adjective this complement always has the form of a PP, but in the case of a verb the target of emotion can also have the form of a DP. This contrast is shown in (419).

Example 419
a. JanExp is bang voor zijn vaderTarget.
  Jan  is  afraid  of his father
b. JanExp vreest zijn vaderTarget.
  Jan  fears  his father

The causer is always a subject, but the examples in (417) have shown that the cause can be realized either as the subject of the sentence or (if a causer is present) as an adjunct PP headed by met or door. We can summarize the findings from the previous subsections by means of the descriptive generalizations in (420).

Example 420
Syntactic realization of the semantic roles (first approximation):
a. Experiencer: subject or object
b. Target of emotion: object
c. Subject matter of emotion: object
d. Causer of emotion: subject
e. Cause of emotion: subject or adjunct ( met/ door-PP)

The notion of object in (420a-c) refers to the accusative argument in the clause. However, we will see in example (425c) in Subsection II that psych-verbs like behagen'to please' take a dative experiencer. In such cases the subject of the clause is not a causer/cause, but an object of emotion: Dat boekCause bevalt hemExp goed'that book pleases him'. Since verbs like bevallen'to please' are nom-dat-verbs, we are dealing with a (derived) DO-subject in such cases, so we can conclude that the object of emotion is always an internal argument of the psychological predicate. Therefore, it seems better to rephrase the generalizations in (420) in terms of internal and external arguments. Since we are not sure whether the (often inanimate) cause of emotion should be seen as an external or an internal argument we added a question mark in (421e).

Example 421
Syntactic realization of the semantic roles (second approximation)
a. Experiencer: external or internal argument
b. Target of emotion: internal argument
c. Subject matter of emotion: internal argument
d. Causer of emotion: external argument
e. Cause of emotion: external (?) argument or adjunct ( met/ door-PP)

A question that should be raised with respect to the semantic roles in (420)/(421) is whether they can be seen as separate thematic roles assigned by the predicate, comparable to the thematic roles of agent and theme, or whether they are specific instantiations of these roles; see, e.g., Pesetsky (1995:ch.2) for a defense of the second position. We will not discuss this issue here, but simply describe the syntactic behavior of the arguments carrying these roles and note which facts may bear on the issue, leaving it to the reader to decide whether or not, e.g., the role of causer is a special instantiation of the agent role.

[+]  II.  Different types of psych-verbs

In accordance with the generalization in (420a) psych-verbs are often classified according to the syntactic function of their experiencer, which leads to a distinction between subject experiencer and object experiencer verbs. The reformulation of this generalization in (421a) suggests, however, that the two groups can be further divided as shown in Table 13. The final column of this table indicates where the distinguished verb types will be more extensively discussed.

Table 13: A classification of psych-verbs
verb type example subsection
Subject experiencer intransitive wanhopen'to despair' Section, sub I
  transitive haten'to hate' Section, sub II
  monadic unaccusative schrikken'to be frightened' Section, sub III
Object experiencer transitive irriteren'to irritate' Section, sub II
  nom-acc irriteren'to irritate'  
(dyadic unaccusative)
behagen'to please' Section, sub I
[+]  A.  Subject experiencer verbs

Unergative subject experiencer verbs like vrezen'to fear' in (422) may select a nominal complement referring to the target or the subject matter of emotion, as in (422a) and (422b), respectively. This shows that subject experiencer verbs differ from adjectival psych-predicates like boos'angry' in that they allow the target of emotion to be realized as a noun phrase.

Example 422
Subject experiencer psych-verbs
a. JanExp vreest zijn vaderTarget.
  Jan  fears  his father
b. JanExp vreest voor zijn levenSubjM.
  Jan  fears  for his life

The examples in (423a&b) show that the unergative subject experiencer verbs need not be transitive but can also be intransitive; in that case the target of emotion is realized as a PP-complement. The (c)-examples in (423) further show that subject experiencer verbs can also be monadic unaccusative, as is clear from the fact that the verb schrikken'to get frightened' selects the auxiliary verb zijn'to be' in the perfect-tense construction.

Example 423
Types of subject experiencer psych-verbs
a. ElsExp wanhoopt (aan het slagen van de onderneming).
intransitive PO-verb
  Els  despairs  of the success of the enterprise
b. JanExp haat dat huiswerk.
  Jan  hates  that homework
c. MarieExp schrok.
  Marie  got.frightened
c'. MarieExp is geschrokken.
  Marie  has  gotten.frightened
[+]  B.  Object experiencer verbs

The subject of an unergative object experiencer verb like ergeren'to annoy' refers either to an entity that is the causer of the mental state, like Peter in (424a), or to an entity that functions as the cause, like die opmerkingen'those remarks' in (424b). The causer and the cause can be simultaneously expressed, but then the latter must be in the form of a met-PP, as is shown by (424c).

Example 424
Object experiencer psych-verbs
a. PeterCauser ergert MarieExp.
  Peter  annoys  Marie
b. Die opmerkingenCause ergeren MarieExp.
  those remarks  annoy  Marie
c. PeterCauser ergert MarieExp met die opmerkingenCause.
  Peter  annoys  Marie  with those remarks

Since the experiencers of object experiencer verbs are realized as objects, such verbs must at least be dyadic. Object experiencer verbs can be subdivided into three subtypes on the basis of properties of their subjects, which are illustrated in (425).

Example 425
Types of object experiencer psych-verbs
a. PeterCauser ergert MarieExp.
  Peter  annoys  Marie
b. Die opmerkingenCause ergeren MarieExp.
  those remarks  annoy  Marie
c. Zulk onbeleefd gedragObject behaagt henExp niet.
  such impolite behavior  pleases  them  not

The verbs in examples like (425a&b) are often referred to as causative psych-verbs given that the subject functions as a causer/cause. Although both constructions involve the verb ergeren'to annoy', we will show that the two constructions in (425a&b) behave quite differently in various respects. The construction with a causer subject in (425a) behaves like other kinds of transitive constructions, and we will therefore consider the verb ergeren in this construction as a regular transitive verb. The construction with a cause subject in (425b), on the other hand, exhibits behavior that is untypical of transitive constructions; the verb ergeren will therefore not be considered a regular transitive verb here, but as an instantiation of a special class of so-called nom-acc verbs. A third type of object experiencer verb is given in (425c); we are dealing in this case with a nom-dat (dyadic unaccusative) verb, which realizes the experiencer as a dative object. The subject of the nom-dat verb is not a causer/cause, but an object (subject matter/target) of emotion. This is, of course, not surprising given that the subject is not an external but an internal argument of the verb, just like the complements of the unergative verbs in (422); cf. the discussion of (421).

[+]  III.  Verb frame alternations

The study of psych-verbs is greatly complicated by the fact that many of these verbs exhibit verb frame alternations. This was already illustrated in Subsection II for the verb ergeren'to annoy', which may take either a causer or a cause as its subject; the relevant examples are repeated here as (426a&b). The situation with this verb is actually even more complex, as it can also be used as an inherently reflexive verb, in which case the experiencer surfaces as the subject and the verb optionally takes a PP-complement referring to the object (target/subject matter) of emotion. The verb frame alternation in (426), which is more extensively discussed in Section, sub IV, is typical of many verbs that can be used as nom-acc verbs.

Example 426
Verb frame alternations with nom-acc verbs
a. PeterCauser ergert MarieExp.
  Peter  annoys  Marie
b. Die opmerkingenCause ergeren MarieExp.
  those remarks  annoy  Marie
c. MarieExp ergert zich (aan PeterObj/die opmerkingObj).
inherently reflexive
  Marie  annoys  refl   of Peter/that remark

Other verb frame alternations are also possible. For example, causative psych-verbs like kalmeren'to calm down' in (427) have unaccusative counterparts; see Section 3.2.3 for and extensive discussion of this so-called causative-inchoative alternation, which we also find with causative non-psych-verbs like breken'to break'. When relevant, the availability of verb frame alternations will be noted in the discussion of object experiencer verbs in Section

Example 427
Causative-inchoative alternation
a. JanCauser kalmeert zijn dochtertjeExp.
  Jan  calms.down  his daughter
b. Die opmerkingenCause kalmeren zijn dochtertjeExp.
  those remarks  calm.down  his daughter
c. Zijn dochtertjeExp kalmeert.
  his daughter  calms.down
  • Pesetsky, David1995Zero syntax: experiencers and cascadesCurrent studies in linguistics 27Cambridge, MAMIT Press
  • Pesetsky, David1995Zero syntax: experiencers and cascadesCurrent studies in linguistics 27Cambridge, MAMIT Press
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