The Meaning of Lexical Causatives in Cross-Linguistic Variation


The causative alternation has been recognised in the linguistic literature as one of the most widely spread linguistic phenomena, attested in almost all languages, although differently realised and involving partially different sets of verbs. In this paper, we identify the degree of spontaneity of the event described by a verb as a general component of meaning of alternating verbs which underlies the within-language and cross-linguistic variation in their realisations. We first establish that a corpus-based measure of this property, the ratio of the frequency of usage of the causative and anticausative form, is strongly correlated to an independent typological measure (Haspelmath, 1993). Then we examine the influence of this property on the cross-linguistic realisations of verbs. We find that the degree of variation and parallelism in forms across languages is strongly related to the degree of spontaneity of the verb.


treebank; causative alternation; language variation; German

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