Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, LINGUISTICS ( (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 02 July 2020

Summary and Keywords

The Causative/Inchoative alternation involves pairs of verbs, one of which is causative and the other non-causative syntactically and semantically (e.g., John broke the window vs. The window broke). In its causative use, an alternating verb is used transitively and understood as externally caused. When used non-causatively, the verb is intransitive and interpreted as spontaneous. The alternation typically exhibits an affected argument (i.e., a Theme) in both intransitive and transitive uses, whereas the transitive use also involves a Causer that brings about the event. Although they are often volitional agents (e.g., John broke the window with a stone), external causers may also be non-volitional causers (e.g., The earthquake broke the windows) and instruments (e.g., The hammer broke the window).

Morphologically, languages exhibit different patterns reflecting the alternation, even intralinguistically. In languages like English, alternations are not morphologically coded, but they are in most languages. Languages like Hindi commonly mark causative (or transitive) alternations by means of different mechanisms, such as internal vowel changes or causative morphology. In many European languages, a subset of alternating verbs may exhibit an uncoded alternation, but most alternating verbs mark anticausativization with a reflexive-like clitic. In Yaqui (Uto-Aztecan), different patterns are associated with different verbal roots. The alternation may be uncoded, equipollent (i.e., both alternating forms are coded), and anticausative.

Theoretically, different approaches have explored the alternation. Both lexical and syntactic causativization and anticausativization accounts have been proposed to explain the alternation. A third approach postulates that both forms are derived from a common source.

Keywords: verb alternations, valency alternations, argument structure, causatives, inchoatives, anticausativization, unaccusatives, reflexivization, lexicalist approaches, syntactic approaches

Access to the complete content on Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics requires a subscription or purchase. Public users are able to search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter without a subscription. If you are a student or academic complete our librarian recommendation form to recommend the Oxford Research Encyclopedias to your librarians for an institutional free trial.

Please subscribe or login to access full text content.

If you have purchased a print title that contains an access token, please see the token for information about how to register your code.

For questions on access or troubleshooting, please check our FAQs, and if you can't find the answer there, please contact us.