Chapter published in:Thetics and Categoricals
Edited by Werner Abraham, Elisabeth Leiss and Yasuhiro Fujinawa
[Linguistik Aktuell/Linguistics Today 262] 2020
► pp. 200–222
Unaccusativity and theticity
This chapter examines theticity in intransitive sentences. Starting with the assumption that the function of a thetic sentence is to introduce a referent into a discourse (without predicating anything of it), two requirements are proposed to characterize thetic intransitives: (A) the sole argument of the sentence must be vP-internal; and (B) the sole argument must be interpreted as a property. Both requirements have precedents in previous work: (A) incorporates Guéron’s (1980) observations on what she called the Presentation LF; and (B) builds on McNally’s (1998a) work on the semantics and discourse function of existential sentences. These requirements show that theticity cannot be explained by lexical verb or verb class; what matters for theticity is syntactic structure and semantic interpretation. It is then shown that the thetic/categorical distinction cuts across a commonly-accepted distinction in intransitive sentences, the unergative-unaccusative distinction. Specifically, only a subtype of unaccusative sentence, those with the “existential unaccusative” structure (Irwin 2018a), satisfies (A) and (B). By contrast, change-of-state unaccusatives pattern with unergative sentences in not being thetic.
Keywords: thetic sentences, intransitive predicates, argument structure, unaccusative, unergative, presentational sentences
Published online: 22 July 2020
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