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3.1. Main types

This section briefly introduces the main types of verb frame alternations that will be discussed in this chapter, subsection I discusses a number of alternations that crucially involve the demotion, suppression or addition of an external argument: passivization, middle formation and (anti-)causativization, subsection II continues with a number of cases in which a noun phrase alternates with a PP, such as the well-known dative alternation. Levin (1993) and Van Hout (1996) include a number of important types of verb frame alternations that are not included in this chapter but discussed elsewhere; Subsection III will briefly illustrate some of these and refer the reader to the sections where they are more extensively discussed.

[+]  I.  Alternations involving the external argument

It is common for verb frame alternations to affect the external argument of the verb. The three main classes are given in (1); they will be briefly introduced in the subsections below and more extensively discussed in Section 3.2.

Example 1
a. Passivization: demotion of the external argument to adjunct status
b. Middle formation: suppression of the external argument
c. Causativization: addition of an external argument
[+]  A.  Passivization

Passivization is illustrated by the examples in (2): it is characterized by the fact that it results in the demotion of the subject of the active construction, which may be left implicit or be expressed by means of an agentive door-PP.

Example 2
a. Marie kust Jan.
  Marie  kisses  Jan
  'Marie kisses Jan.'
b. Jan wordt gekust (door Marie).
  Jan is  kissed   by Marie
  'Jan is kissed by Marie.'

The demotion to adjunct status of the subject may go hand in hand with the promotion of some other argument to subject. The construction in (2b) exemplifies the so-called regular passive, which always involves promotion of the direct object, but there are also cases in which the indirect object is promoted to subject. Since the choice between the direct and the indirect object depends on the auxiliary, the two types of passive in (3) are often referred to as, respectively, the worden-passive and the krijgen-passive.

Example 3
a. Jan stuurt Marie het boek toe.
  Jan  sends  Marie  the book  prt.
b. Het boek wordt/is Marie toegestuurd.
  the book  is/has.been  Marie  prt.-sent
c. Marie kreeg het boek toegestuurd.
  Marie  got  the book  prt.-sent

Dutch differs from English not only in allowing promotion of the direct object of a double object construction, as in (3b), but also in that it allows passivization of intransitive verbs. This gives rise to the passive construction in (4b), which is normally referred to as the impersonal passive given that it takes the non-referential pronoun het'it' as its subject.

Example 4
a. Jan lachte hard.
  Jan  laughed  loudly
  'Jan was laughing loudly.'
b. Er werd hard gelachen (door Jan).
  there  was  loudly  laughed   by Jan

The different forms of passivization are discussed extensively in Section 3.2.1.

[+]  B.  Middle formation

Middle formation is illustrated in the (a)-examples of (5) by means of the so-called regular middle, in which the object of a transitive verb appears as the subject of the corresponding middle, and in the (b)-examples by means of the so-called adjunct middle, in which the subject of the middle corresponds to the nominal part of an adjunct-PP. The examples in (5) show that middle formation differs from passivization in that the external argument of the verb normally cannot be syntactically expressed by means of a door-phrase.

Example 5
a. Jan leest het boek.
  Jan reads  the book
a'. Dat boek leest gemakkelijk (*door Jan).
regular middle
  that book  reads  easily     by Jan
b. Jan rijdt op zijn fiets/het fietspad.
  Jan drives  (on his bike/the bike.way)
b'. Deze fiets/dit fietspad rijdt lekker (*door Jan).
adjunct middle
  this bike/bike.way drives  nicely      by Jan

The agent seems nevertheless to be implied, which may be related to the obligatory presence of an evaluative modifier of the type gemakkelijk'easily' or lekker'nicely'; such modifiers semantically imply some participant that is responsible for the evaluation expressed by the adverb and which is taken to refer to the agent of the event denoted by the verb in the default case. Middles normally refer to some individual-level property of their subject. The various types of middles are discussed in Section 3.2.2.

[+]  C.  Causative alternation

The causative alternation is illustrated in (6) by means of the verb breken'to break', which can be used in two different verb frames: causative breken is transitive, which means that it selects an external and an internal argument, whereas inchoative breken is unaccusative, that is, selects an internal argument only.

Example 6
a. Jan breekt de vaas.
  Jan breaks  the vase
b. De vaas breekt (*door Jan).
  the vase  breaks      by Jan

The causative and the middle alternation are alike in that the verb does not require any morphological change and that the agent of the transitive construction normally cannot be expressed by means of an agentive door-phrase in the corresponding unaccusative construction. The causative alternation is more extensively discussed in Section 3.2.3.

[+]  II.  Alternations involving noun phrases and PPs (DP-PP alternation)

A second major class of verb frame alternation involves the alternation between a noun phrase and a (locational) PP. The examples in (7) illustrate a well-known example of this, which is often referred to as dative shift given that the noun phrase that alternates with the PP is a dative (indirect) object. Although this is normally not noted by traditional grammars, it seems that the so-called periphrastic indirect object is spatial in nature: example (7a) contains a change of location verb and the aan-PP refers to the new location of the referent of the direct object; example (7b) contains the motion verb sturen'to send' and the naar-PP refers to the goal of the path covered by the referent of the direct object; example (7c) again involves a path but the van-PP refers to the source of the path covered by the referent of the direct object. For an extensive discussion of the distinction between the notions change of location and path we refer the reader to Section P1.3.1.1.

Example 7
Dative alternation
a. Ik geef <Jandative> het boek <aan Jan>.
  give   Jan  the book    to Jan
b. Ik stuur <Jandative> het boek <naar Jan> toe.
  send    Jan  the book    to Jan toe
c. Ik pak <Jandative> het boek <van Jan> af.
  take    Jan  the book    from Jan  af

      Example (8) shows that it is also possible for an accusative noun phrase to alternate with a PP. There are several types of such transitive-oblique alternations that correspond to systematic meaning differences: in examples such as (8a), for example, the theme of the transitive verb is affected by the activity denoted by the verb, whereas the theme of the PO-verb in examples such as (8b) is not necessarily affected by the activity denoted by the verb.

Example 8
Transitive-oblique alternation
a. Jan schoot de haas.
  Jan shot  the hare
b. Jan schoot op de haas.
  Jan shot  at the hare

A somewhat more complex DP-PP alternation is illustrated in example (9), in which the locational PP op de muur'on the wall' alternates with the accusative noun phrase de muur'the wall'. This alternation, which is known as the locative alternation, goes hand in hand with a number of other changes: the verb hangen is prefixed with be- and the original accusative phrase, de muur, is realized as the nominal part of a met-PP.

Example 9
Locative alternation (type I)
a. Jan hangt de posters op de muur.
  Jan hangs  the posters  on the wall
b. Jan behangt de muur met posters.
  Jan be-hangs  the wall  with posters

Finally, DP-PP alternations may also involve the subject (nominative argument) of the clause. Example (10) illustrates this by means of a second type of locative alternation. This construction resembles the adjunct middle mentioned in Subsection I but crucially differs from it in that the subject in (10a) is not a referential noun phrase but the non-referential pronoun het'it'.

Example 10
Locative alternation (type II)
a. Het krioelt in de tuin van de mieren.
  it  swarms  in the garden  of the ants
  'The garden is swarming with ants.'
b. De tuinnom krioelt van de mieren.
  the garden  swarms  of the ants
  'The garden is swarming with ants.'

These different forms of DP-PP alternation are discussed in Section 3.3.

[+]  III.  Alternations that will not be discussed in this chapter

Before we start our discussion of the verb frame alternations above, it is important to note that this chapter will not discuss a number of other verb frame alternations, because they are discussed elsewhere. The first type involves cases like (11a-c), in which a so-called cognate object is added to an otherwise intransitive clause or in which an internal argument of an otherwise (di-)transitive verbs is left implicit; these cases are discussed in Section 2.1. Cases in which a verb takes an optional PP-complement, like wachten in (11d), are discussed in Section 2.3.

Example 11
a. Jan praat.
  Jan talks
a'. Jan praat onzin.
  Jan talks  nonsense
b. Jan drinkt een kop koffie.
  Jan drinks  a cup [of] coffee
b'. Jan drinkt.
  Jan drinks
c. Jan stuurde Marie een boek.
  Jan sent  Marie a book
c'. Jan stuurde een boek.
  Jan sent  a book
d. Jan wachtte op vader.
  Jan waited  for father
d'. Jan wachtte.
  Jan waited

Obviously, we will not be concerned with optional adverbial phrases either. This means that we will not discuss the Dutch counterpart of Levin's (1993:34) understood body part alternation given that in Dutch the body part is normally expressed by means of an adverbial PP, and not by an object (as in English).

Example 12
a. Jan klapte (in zijn handen).
  Jan clapped   in his hands
  'Jan clapped (his hand).'
b. De hond kwispelde (met zijn staart).
  the dog  wagged   with his tail
  'The dog wagged (its tail).'

The second type of alternation that will not be discussed in this chapter involves alternations that are triggered by the addition of complementives (including verbal particles). The (a)- and (b)-examples in (13) show that this may result in, respectively, transitivization (the addition of a nominal argument) or an intransitive-unaccusative alternation. Alternations of this sort are discussed in Section 2.2.

Example 13
a. De hond blaft (*zijn baas).
  the dog  barks     his boss
a'. De hond blaft *(zijn baas) wakker.
  the dog  barks     his boss  awake
b. Jan heeft/*is urenlang gewandeld.
  Jan has/is  for.hours  walked
  'Jan has been walking for hours.'
b'. Jan is/*heeft in vijf minuten naar het plein gewandeld.
  Jan is/has  within five minutes  to the square  walked
  'Jan has walked to the square within five minutes.'

The third type of alternation that will not be discussed is illustrated by the examples in (14), which show that the introduction of a simplex reflexive leads to suppression of the external argument of the transitive verb as well as promotion of the object to subject. Cases of this type are discussed in Section 2.5.2.

Example 14
a. Jan verspreidde het gerucht.
  Jan spread  the rumor
b. Marie waste Peter.
  Marie washed  Peter
a'. Het gerucht verspreidde *(zich).
  the rumor  spread    refl
b'. Peter waste zich.
  Peter washed  refl
  • Hout, Angeliek van1996Event semantics of verb frame alternations: a case study of Dutch and its acquisitionTilburgTilburg UniversityThesis
  • Levin, Beth1993English verb classes and alternationsChicago/LondonUniversity of Chicago Press
  • Levin, Beth1993English verb classes and alternationsChicago/LondonUniversity of Chicago Press
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