AATIC: Agentivity, Animacy and Telicity: Pragmatic Inferences in Intransitive Clauses

Principal investigators:
Prof. Dr. Beatrice Primus
Dr. Markus Philipp
Universität zu Köln

Project description:
As in many other languages, German intransitive verbs are split into unaccusatives such as entkommen ‘escape’ and unergatives such as reden ‘talk’. In previous research, unaccusatives are assumed to be telic verbs that denote a change of location or state and to select a patient role; unergative verbs are analysed as atelic verbs with an agent role (e.g. Perlmutter 1978, Van Valin 1990). Thus, agentivity and telicity are inversely correlated in split intransitivity (Keller & Sorace 2003). Auxiliary selection and passivization of intransitive verbs are closely linked as follows: BE is acceptable, while HAVE and passivization are unacceptable with unaccusatives. In contrast, BE is unacceptable, while HAVE and passivization are acceptable with unergatives. However, the hypothesized inverse correlation between agentivity (tested via animacy) and telicity and the assumed close match between auxiliary selection and impersonal passivization are questionable. We will explore these issues systematically by zooming in on intransitive verbs that are flexible with respect to agentivity, telicity and auxiliary choice, such as Ger. schweben ‘float, hover’ and schwimmen ‘swim, float’. With such verbs, agentivity, animacy and telicity may change in a context-dependent way and may be manipulated for experimental purposes.
This project will contribute to the main goals of the Priority Programme XPrag.de: New Pragmatic Theories based on Experimental Evidence by using a combination of advanced experimental methods such as speeded acceptability judgements and electro-physiological data (ERP) in order to explore the previously neglected issue of the impact of contextual information in split intransitivity phenomena. On a more general level, we address the role of pragmatics in the architecture of language and in language processing, as en­visaged by Schumacher’s (2012, 2013) Syntax-Discourse Processing Model. According to this model, context dependent information is used incrementally and interactively with grammatical information in two rather distinct operations during language processing. This model is in line with recent performance-compatible approaches to grammar in which different types of information may interact.

Keller, F. / Sorace, A. 2003. Gradient Auxiliary Selection and Impersonal Passivization in German: An Experimental Investigation. Journal of Linguistics 39, 57-108.
Perlmutter, D.M. 1978, Impersonal passives and the unaccusative hypothesis. In: Proceedings of the 4th Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistic Society: 157-189.
Schumacher, P.B. 2012. Context in neurolinguistics: time-course data from electrophysiology. In: Finkbeiner, P. / Meibauer, J. / Schumacher, P.B.  (eds.) What is a Context? Linguistic Approaches and Challenges. Amsterdam, 33-53.
Schumacher, P.B. 2013. Content and context in incremental processing: “the ham sandwich” revisited. Philosophical Studies 165(1) . DOI 10.1007/s11098-013-0179-6
Van Valin, R.D. 1990. Semantic parameters of split intransitivity. Language 66, 221-260.