Anticausatives compete but do not differ in meaning: a French case study
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In French as in many other Romance and Germanic languages, verbs undergoing the causative/anticausative alternation divide into two morphological and three distributional classes. With verbs of class A, the anticausative (AC) is morphologically unmarked (∅-ACs), cf. « brûler ». With verbs of class B, the AC is marked with the reflexive clitic se, cf. « se briser ». ACs of class C allow both markings (∅/se-ACs) allow both markings, cf. « (se) casser ». Several authors have proposed that the presence vs. absence of the reflexive clitic goes along with differences in meaning, see e.g. Labelle 1992, Doron & Labelle 2011, Labelle & Doron 2010, according to which se-ACs express externally caused events while ∅-ACs express internally caused events (claim 1) and se-ACs focus on the achievement of a result state while ∅-ACs focus on a process (claim 2). To derive these alleged differences in meaning, fundamentally different syntactic structures have been proposed for se-ACs and ∅-ACs: Labelle 1992 argues that se-ACs are unaccusative while ∅-ACs are unergative, whereas Doron & Labelle 2011 and Labelle & Doron 2010 (henceforth DL) propose that se-ACs and ∅-ACs are both unaccusative but differ substantially in their event decomposition and the position where the lexical root is merged in the structure. The goal of this paper is to show that most of the meaning differences proposed to hold between se-ACs and ∅-ACs are either not existent or idiosyncratic/verb-specific. In particular, they cannot be generalized to the presence/absence of morphological marking. This makes a structural explanation of these meaning differences unfeasible: the presence vs. absence of se cannot be associated with syntactic differences driving meaning differences. To the extent that meaning aspects can be robustly associated with either marked or unmarked ACs, we argue that this holds only for verbs of class C (optional marking; cf. also Legendre & Smolensky 2009). We derive these within a pragmatic account: with verbs of class C (i.e. if a choice is possible), a pragmatic reasoning on the possible interpretations of the string [DP se V] (AC or also semantically reflexive) leads the speaker to prefer one version over the other. Note that we do not deny any syntactic differences between ∅-ACs and se-ACs: the presence of se suggests a syntactic extra- layer on top of vP, a middle or expletive Voice (Doron 2003, Alexiadou et al. 2006, Schäfer 2008). The presence of this expletive Voice projection triggers (morpho-)syntactic differences (e.g. auxiliary selection) but does not add any semantics.
© aux auteurs, publié par EDP Sciences, 2014
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