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Valency in the Romance Languagesfree

Valency in the Romance Languagesfree

  • Steffen HeidingerSteffen HeidingerDepartment of Romance Languages, Universität Graz

Summary

The notion of valency describes the property of verbs to open argument positions in a sentence (e.g., the verb eat opens two argument positions, filled in the sentence John ate the cake by the subject John and the direct object the cake). Depending on the number of arguments, a verb is avalent (no argument), monovalent (one argument), bivalent (two arguments), or trivalent (three arguments).

In Romance languages, verbs are often labile (i.e., they occur in more than one valency pattern without any formal change on the verb). For example, the (European and Brazilian) Portuguese verb adoecer ‘get sick’/‘make sick’ can be used both as a monovalent and a bivalent verb (O bebê adoeceu ‘The baby got sick’ vs. O tempo frio adoeceu o bebê ‘The cold weather made the baby sick’). However, labile verbs are not equally important in all Romance languages. Taking the causative–anticausative alternation as an example, labile verbs are used more frequently in the encoding of the alternation in Portuguese and Italian than in Catalan and Spanish (the latter languages frequently recur to an encoding with a reflexively marked anticausative verb (e.g., Spanish romperse ‘break’).

Romance languages possess various formal means to signal that a given constituent is an argument: word order, flagging the argument (by means of morphological case and, more importantly, prepositional marking), and indexing the argument on the verb (by means of morphological agreement or clitic pronouns). Again, Romance languages show variation with respect to the use of these formal means. For example, prepositional marking is much more frequent than morphological case marking on nouns (the latter being only found in Romanian).

Subjects

  • Morphology
  • Semantics
  • Syntax

1. Basic Concepts

1.1 Valency

Lucien Tesnière introduced the term valency to linguistic research. In his Éléments de syntaxe structurale (Tesnière, 1959), he laid out the first description of a dependency grammar. The basic assumption of this syntactic model is that sentences are hierarchically structured entities with dependency relations between the constitutive elements (cf. Tesnière, 1959, p. 11). The notion of valency is linked to the crucial role that the verb plays as the highest head in the structure of a sentence, which Tesnière illustrated in a now-famous comparison: A verb is like an atom attracting a certain number of arguments (cf. Tesnière, 1959, p. 238). He also described sentences in terms of a play consisting of some event, some actors and, possibly, circumstances of the event. The verb’s arguments denote the actors that are involved in the event (cf. Tesnière, 1959, p. 102). In addition to the arguments, a sentence may contain adjuncts that describe the circumstances of the event (e.g., time, place, manner). In (1), the verb dance describes the event, John is the actor (or the argument), and on the table specifies the circumstances of the event (by indicating where the event takes place).

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Valency is not limited to verbs. For example, deverbal nominalizations often inherit the valency of their derivational basis. In (2), la ville and l’ennemi can be considered as arguments of the nominal head destruction, because they correspond to the internal and the external argument of the transitive verb détruire ‘destroy.’

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Although valency is not limited to verbs, the remainder of this article will deal with verbal valency only (but see Groß, 2003; Teubert, 2003, for overviews of the valency of nouns and adjectives).

1.2 Determining a Verb’s Valency

It is essential to consider two points when determining the valency of a given verb. First, one must distinguish arguments from adjuncts. Only arguments are governed by the verb, and thus only arguments such as John in (1), but not adjuncts such as on the table in (1), are relevant for the valency of the verb. However, the distinction between arguments and adjuncts is not trivial and has been the subject of a long debate in the literature following the publication of Tesnière (1959; cf. Haspelmath & Hartmann, 2015; Jacobs, 1994, 2003; Storrer, 2003; Vater, 1978; Zifonun et al., 1997). Second, a verb can have more than one valency in the sense that a verb does not always appear with the same number of arguments. For example, the Spanish (Sp.) verb comer ‘eat’ has only one argument in (3a) but two arguments in (3b).

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Thus, it is essential to distinguish a verb’s valency in a given sentence (e.g., comer as a one-argument verb in [3a]) and a verb’s valency potential (i.e., the sum of valencies a verb can have [e.g., comer as a one-argument verb and a two-argument verb]).

Depending on the number of arguments, a verb (or rather, a verb’s occurrence in a given sentence) can be labeled as avalent (no argument), monovalent (one argument), bivalent (two arguments), and trivalent (three arguments). All arguments count equally when it comes to determining a verb’s valency (and the traditional asymmetry between subject and object does not matter). Because many Romance languages are null-subject languages, it should be stressed that phonetically empty, but syntactically active arguments count as well. Implicit arguments that are semantically recoverable, but not syntactically active (as in [3a]), are not considered relevant for a verb’s valency.

1.3 Valency at the Syntax–Semantics Interface

Valency is a property of verbs that is located at the syntax–semantics interface. It seems obvious that the semantics of the verb determine, at least to some extent, how a verb can be combined with arguments on the syntactic surface. However, the exact relation between verb semantics and verb valency is not undisputed, and different answers to the question at which level of representation valency-related information is stored can be found. The projectionist, the constructionist, and the neoconstructionist approach constitute three current approaches to verbal semantics and syntax, and they provide different answers to this question. Generally speaking, the answers differ as to how they divide the labor between different levels of representation.

The projectionist approach attributes the information that is relevant for valency to the lexical entry of the verb. The lexical entry registers some kind of semantically anchored argument structure that in turn determines the morphosyntactic expression (or: projection) of the arguments (cf. Levin & Rappaport Hovav, 2005, p. 186). An example for such a lexical entry of a verb is given in (4) for the verb break. The lexical semantic representation (LSR) for the verb break, as given in (4), contains information on both the number of arguments and their role in the event: the first argument x does something, whereas the second argument y undergoes a change.

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The constructionist approach assumes a less structured lexical entry for verbs, which contains only a core meaning. Nevertheless, this core meaning includes valency-related information. For example, the verb sneeze has a single “profiled participant role” (i.e., the “sneezer” [Goldberg, 1995, p. 54]), which suggests that the verb is a one-argument verb. However, under the constructionist view, the valency of a given verb is not determined before the verb enters a given argument structure construction (the pairing of a meaning with a given syntactic frame). Crucially, this argument structure construction can offer further participant roles besides the profiled participant roles of the verb. In (5), the verb sneeze is used in the “caused-motion construction” (Goldberg, 1995, p. 54). Figure 1 represents the way in which the verb and the argument structure construction integrate.

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Figure 1. Sneeze in caused-motion construction.

Source: Goldberg (1995, p. 54).

The sentence in (5) contains two arguments, the subject he and the direct object the napkin. However, only the argument in subject position (he) corresponds to an argument that is incorporated in the core meaning of the verb sneeze. The second argument (the napkin) is contributed by the argument structure construction. Thus, the actual valency that a verb has in a given sentence does not necessarily correspond to the number of participants in the lexical entry of the verb. Instead, both the verb itself and the argument structure construction contribute to the valency of the verb in this approach.

Finally, the neoconstructionist approach (cf. Alexiadou et al., 2014; Borer, 1994, 2003) shares with the traditional constructionist approach the assumption that not all valency-related information is stored together with the verb (or, to be more precise, with the category-neutral root). Unlike traditional constructionists, neoconstructionists assume that a root enters a compositionally derived syntactic structure, where it is semantically specified by the semantics of the syntactic structure. The distribution of roots in syntactic constructions (be it words or phrases or sentences), and thus also the valency of the root, depends on the semantic compatibility of the root and the respective syntactic structure.

2. Valency Patterns

Valency patterns are descriptions of a verb that go beyond the mere statement of the number of arguments (e.g., avalent, monovalent). Besides the number of arguments, a valency pattern includes information on the formal argument coding and the semantic role of arguments (cf. Haspelmath & Hartmann, 2015). Note that the description of a verb’s valency could be further expanded by including the syntactic category of the argument (e.g., sentential arguments vs. nonsentential arguments).

2.1 Argument Coding

Beginning with argument coding, a threefold distinction can be made between flagging, indexing, and word order (cf. Haspelmath & Hartmann, 2015). Flagging refers to formal means that indicate that some element of the sentence is an argument and the grammatical type of argument. Indexing means that the arguments have some formal reflex on the verb, such as agreement or argument clitics. Finally, word order may also serve as a formal means contributing to the identification of arguments. For example, in a rather strict subject-verb-object language such as Fr., the preverbal position may indicate that a given noun phrase is a subject and not an object. Only flagging and indexing will be further pursued in the following description of Romance argument coding.

2.1.1 Flagging

One of the many changes from Latin (Lat.) to the Romance languages is the loss of morphological case marking on nouns. In most present-day Romance languages, nouns show no or few remnants of the rich case system of Lat. Case inflection on nouns was part of the grammar of Old Fr. and Old Occitan (Occ.), and occurs in present-day Romanian (Ro. [cf. Bossong, 1998a; Dragomirescu & Nicolae, 2016]). Unlike inflectional morphology, prepositional marking of nominal arguments is quite frequent in the Romance languages. This marking strategy mainly applies to oblique objects (indirect and prepositional objects; cf. 6a). Subjects are not introduced by prepositions (cf. 6a–c). Direct objects can be introduced by prepositions (treated as differential object marking) in some languages under specific conditions, exemplified by the animacy contrast between the direct objects in (6b) and (6c) (cf. Bossong, 1998c; see “Differential Object Marking in the Romance Languages,” forthcoming).

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Thus, although the inflectional flagging mechanism inherited from Lat. is absent in present-day Romance languages, with the exception of Ro., the innovative prepositional indexing mechanism is frequent. Differences among the Romance languages concern differential object marking (yes: Pt., Sp., Cat., Occ., southern Italian [It.] dialects, Sardinian [Srd.], and Ro.; no: Fr., Franco-Provencal, Occ., Ladin, Friulian [Frl.], Standard It., and Northern It. dialects), the absence of prepositional datives (yes: Ro.; no: rest), and distinctions in the pronominalization within the class of prepositional objects (yes: Fr., Cat., Occ., Srd., It.; no: Portuguese [Pt.], Sp., Ro., Ladin, Frl.) (Bossong, 1998a, pp. 772–774).

2.1.2 Indexing

Romance clitic pronouns typically attach to the verb (or another clitic element attached to the verb), and thus might be considered as indexing devices. In (7), for example, all three arguments of the sentence are proclitically attached to the verb donnera.

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As concerns the clitic and nonclitic representation of arguments in a sentence, several cases need to be distinguished. Clitics can function as indexes of an argument on the verb in addition to a nonclitic expression of the respective argument in the sentence (which is commonly referred to as clitic doubling; see “Clitic Doubling in the Romance Languages,” forthcoming). This is illustrated by the Florentine (Flo.) (a Romance dialect of Italy) data in (8) (Poletto & Tortora, 2016, p. 772) where the subject argument is indexed by te ‘you’ and the clitic tu, which is attached to the verb (cf. Poletto & Tortora, 2016 for an overview of Romance subject clitics).

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Similarly, the object argument can also be represented twice in a sentence. In American varieties of Sp., direct objects are frequently doubled as in (9) (Zagona, 2002, p. 68): the direct object is represented by the clitic lo and the disjunctive pronoun él. Romance languages often show attachment of a resumptive clitic to the verb when an argument of the verb is dislocated and positioned outside the core sentence; however, in (8) and (9), the arguments are doubled within the core sentence (cf. also Company Company, 2003).

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But clitics can also function as the sole expression of an argument in a sentence. In (10a), all three arguments of the main verb are represented as clitics only. The example in (10b) shows that clitics are not obligatory; thus the arguments are not always indexed as clitics on the verb.

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In examples (8) and (9), the clitics are attached to the main verb (i.e., the element that bears the valency). However, this is not always the case, and Romance argument clitics show considerable positional variation. In (10a), the clitics are attached to the finite auxiliary a and not to the lexical main verb donné (which bears the valency).

Another relevant feature of Romance argument clitics is that they may show case distinctions (unlike their nominal counterparts). For example, the third person singular clitic pronoun in Fr. takes a different form in subject, direct object, and indirect object function: il = 3sg subject, le = 3sg direct object, lui = 3sg indirect object (cf. [10a]). But the Romance pronominal system is also characterized by a great deal of syncretism in which a given form of a pronoun corresponds to several syntactic functions. For example, the Fr. first person plural clitic pronoun nous has the same form as a subject, direct object, and indirect object.

Another mechanism for indexing, besides clitic pronouns, is inflectional agreement between the verb and one or more arguments. In the Romance languages, agreement mainly takes place between verb and subject. In (11), the three arguments have the following person and number features: subject il = 3sg, dO les = 3pl, iO nous = 1pl. The sentence’s verb donnera inflects for 3sg (i.e., agreement is controlled by the subject il).

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This inflectional indexing mechanism inherited from Lat. is still present in the present-day Romance languages. However, in Fr., its distinctive power is rather reduced, as illustrated by the following homophone present indicative forms of the verb chanter ‘sing’: chante (1sg), chantes (2sg), chante (3sg), chantent (3pl). Direct objects function as the controller of agreement only in limited contexts. For example, past participles in compound tenses agree with plural or feminine objects in the case of object clitics (for an overview on past participle agreement in Romance languages, see Loporcaro, 2010a, 2010b, 2016). In (12), the object clitic l’ controls the agreement of the past participle messa (Loporcaro, 2010a, p. 227).

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2.2 Semantics

On the semantic level, arguments can be described with respect to their role in the event denoted by the verb. The description can be more-or-less general and range from verb-specific roles, to more general semantic roles, and to macro roles (cf. [13]).

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Various inventories of semantic roles have been proposed since their introduction into linguistic analysis by Gruber (1965) and Fillmore (1968). The following descriptions of valency patterns use a simple inventory consisting of agent, cause, instrument, patient, theme, goal, benefactive, and experiencer.

The description of valency patterns does not always include all of the information on argument coding (flagging, indexing) and semantic roles. Descriptions may be simplified and adapted to the necessities at hand. Taking semantic and formal aspects together, it is possible to represent the valency pattern of a trivalent verb such as Fr. donner ‘give’ as in (14). The schema indicates the syntactic function of the arguments (subj, dO, iO), argument indexing on the verb (Vsubj), and the semantic role of the arguments (ag, pat, goal); the number of arguments is represented indirectly.

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2.3 Cross-linguistic Comparison

Unsurprisingly, languages show both commonalities and differences when it comes to valency patterns. In the former case, they use the same valency pattern to express a certain verb meaning. For example, Fr. and English use the same valency pattern to encode the verb meaning ‘break’ (cf. [15]).

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In the latter case, the language uses different valency patterns to express a given verb meaning. As the data in (16) show (Tesnière, 1959, p. 288), Fr. and English use different valency patterns to encode the verb meaning ‘miss’ (such cross-linguistic differences are called metataxe by Tesnière, 1959).

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A systematic cross-linguistic comparison of valency patterns should of course involve more than just one verb meaning. Transitivity prominence (Haspelmath, 2015; Say, 2014) is a measure used to characterize and compare individual languages, which can be applied to a large number of verb meanings and a larger number of languages. The measure indicates how many verb meanings of a sample are encoded in a language with a basic transitive valency pattern. Haspelmath (2015, p. 136) defines transitive as the valency pattern that corresponds to the one used to encode the verb meaning ‘break’. For example, a language in which nine out of ten verb meanings are encoded with a basic transitive valency pattern has a transitivity prominence of 90%. In the Romance languages, this valency pattern corresponds to subjectverbdirect object, as in (15). Using this measure, it is possible to compare Romance languages with each other but also with languages of other language families.

Table 1 provides the transitivity prominence of the Romance languages It., Sp., and Fr., and three additional languages as points of reference: English, Chintang (as the language with the highest transitivity prominence), and Lezgi (as the language with the lowest transitivity prominence) (cf. Haspelmath, 2015; Say, 2014).

The data show that the three Romance languages It., Sp., and Fr. have very similar transitivity prominence: about 60% of the verb meanings of the sample are encoded with the basic transitive valency pattern. The transitive pattern is thus the dominant pattern in all three languages. Haspelmath (2015, p. 139) confirms the dominance of the transitive pattern as a cross-linguistic tendency: 29 out of 36 languages have a transitivity prominence greater than 50%.

Table 1. Transitivity Prominence

Say (2014, p. 165)

Haspelmath (2015, p. 139)

(80 verb meanings)

Chintang (Tibeto-Burman)

75%

Italian

58%

(of 118 verb meanings)

62%

Spanish

59%

(of 123 verb meanings)

French

56%

(of 124 verb meanings)

English

63%

(of 122 verb meanings)

58%

Lezgi (Nakh-Daghestanian)

34%

(of 116 verb meanings)

Besides such large-scale comparisons, it is also possible to compare languages with respect to the valency patterns of specific verb types. Verbs of experience are such a specific verb type for which cross-linguistic variation has been studied. On the semantic level, verbs of experience imply a human or at least animate experiencer and a stimulus that triggers (or correlates with) the experience. Variation in the valency patterns of verbs of experience is the result of different alignments of these semantic roles with syntactic functions. In (17) (Belletti & Rizzi, 1988, pp. 291–292), the experiencer is expressed as a subject in (17a), as a direct object in (17b), and as an indirect object in (17c).

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It is possible to make a coarse distinction based on whether verbs of experience follow the prototype of bivalent verbs (Bossong, 1998b, pp. 259–260). In the pattern following the bivalent prototype, the experiencer is treated like the agent of an action verb (and thus expressed as the subject), and the stimulus is treated like the patient of an action verb (and expressed as the direct object). The data in (16) show two types of encoding for the verb meaning ‘miss.’ The English valency pattern follows the structure of the prototype in that one argument is the subject and the second is the direct object. However, on the semantic side, the actor-like stimulus argument is the direct object and the undergoer-like experiencer argument the subject. The Fr. valency pattern consists of a subject and an indirect object, where the actor-like stimulus is the subject and the undergoer-like experiencer is the indirect object. Bossong (1998b) calculates for 10 verbs of experience in several Romance languages their fidelity or infidelity to the bivalent prototype (based on the syntactic function of the arguments and whether the stimulus is linked to subject position). Concentrating on the distinction between subject experiencers and nonsubject experiencers, the ranking of the languages under consideration is as follows: It. > Sp. > Pt. > Fr. > Ro. (cf. Bossong, 1998b, pp. 266–267). It. has the highest number of subject experiencers and the lowest number of nonsubject experiencers. Noticeably, Ro. stands out in that the majority of verbs of experience show a pattern in which the experiencer is not encoded as the subject. Table 2 shows selected contrasts between Fr. (with a subject experiencer) and Ro. (with a nonsubject experiencer).

Table 2. Verbs of Experience

‘I am cold’

‘I am sorry’

‘I have a headache’

French

j’ai froid

je suis désolé

j’ai mal à la tête

EXP = subject

Romanian

m-e frig

îmi cer scuze

mӑ doare capul

EXP ≠ subject

Source: Bossong (1998b, pp. 266–267).

It is possible to make further distinctions based on the syntactic function of a nonsubject experiencer, where direct (or accusative) and indirect object (or dative) experiencers can be distinguished (Belletti & Rizzi, 1988; Kailuweit, 2015).

3. Valency Alternations

3.1 Terminological Clarification

In the Romance languages, verbs often appear in more than only one valency pattern. Such verbs are polyvalent in the sense of having more than one valency. However, polyvalency is not a homogeneous phenomenon, and systematic cases of polyvalency, that is, valency alternations, must be distinguished from unsystematic cases. The latter type is instantiated, for example, by verbs such as Fr. tirer. The verb can be used as in (18a) with a subject and a direct object and as in (18b) with a subject and a prepositional object (Waltereit, 2002, p. 263).

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The verb tirer means ‘pull’ in (18a) and ‘shoot’ in (18b). This difference between the verb’s meanings in the two valency patterns does not replicate itself in other verbs. The difference between ‘pull’ and ‘shoot’ is limited to the polyvalency of tirer, and the verb’s polyvalency is thus unsystematic (yet another unsystematic aspect of the verb is that the semantic difference between ‘pull’ and ‘shoot’ does not even correlate with the two valency patterns; in fact, depending on the lexical properties of the arguments, tirer sur X can mean ‘pull’ and tirer X can mean ‘shoot’).

Other cases of polyvalency replicate in several verbs. For example, the semantic difference between the two valency patterns of Fr. augmenter in (19), namely the presence versus absence of an external cause, occurs in a large number of Fr. verbs. Rothemberg (1974) counts 311 such verbs in a corpus of 7,080 verbs. Crucially, the term valency alternation applies only to systematic cases of polyvalency as exemplified by augmenter in (19) (cf. Malchukov, 2015, p. 91; Waltereit, 2002, p. 263).

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Hence it is possible to describe valency alternations as systematic alternations between valency patterns. It is also possible to classify them according to several parameters, such as:

the argument affected by the alternation

whether arguments are added, removed, or simply reorganized

whether the alternation is formally marked on the verb

Dixon and Aikhenvald (2000); Haspelmath and Müller-Bardey (2004); and Malchukov (2015) provide typological overviews on valency alternations and the devices that languages use to formally mark them. Although some researchers consider passives as the result of argument removal, they are not a subject of this paper, because the agent argument is demoted but still syntactically active (see Cabredo Hofherr [2017] for an overview on passives in Romance languages).

3.2 Lability

Valency alternations in Romance languages are characterized by the frequent use of labile verbs. In such cases, the alternation between the two valency patterns is not formally marked on the alternating verb (Gianollo, 2014; Larjavaara, 2000; Letuchiy, 2010; Rothemberg, 1974). This feature of Romance languages can be illustrated by means of the deobjective alternation and the applicative benefactive alternation.

In the deobjective alternation, a given verb appears in the valency patterns in (20). The It. example in (21) illustrates that the verb is formally identical in both valency patterns of the alternation (Armstrong, 2016; Cennamo, 2015, 2017; Larjavaara, 1999, 2000).

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In (22), Haspelmath and Müller-Bardey (2004, pp. 1131–1132) exemplify the same alternation with a formally marked verb in the monovalent valency pattern with data from Ainu (Japan). The affix i- in (22b) marks the objectless use of the verb.

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Another alternation that typically remains unmarked in Romance languages is the benefactive applicative alternation. This alternation involves a bivalent valency pattern and a trivalent pattern; the additional argument in the trivalent pattern expresses the benefactive of the event (cf. Cennamo, 2015; Roberge & Troberge, 2009; Troberg, 2008). The valency patterns of this alternation are given in (23). An It. example for the unmarked encoding of the alternation follows in (24) (Cennamo, 2015, p. 439).

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The Indonesian data in (25) (Haspelmath & Müller-Bardey, 2004, p. 1134) show that the alternation can be formally marked on the verb as well (in this case with an object-adding affix kan in [25b]).

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Despite the important role of labile verbs, not all valency alternations remain unmarked in Romance languages. Section 3.3, The Causative–Anticausative Alternation, deals with the causative–anticausative alternation in Romance languages, where both marked and unmarked encodings are attested. The use of labile (vs. marked) encoding strategies may undergo diachronic changes, and interestingly the Romance languages show both increases and decreases in labile encoding (labile encodings are increasing in the domain of anticausative formation in Brazilian [Pt.]; see Carvalho, 2016). Labile encodings have decreased in Fr. anticausative formation because of the rise of reflexive anticausatives since Old Fr. (Heidinger, 2010).

3.3 The Causative–Anticausative Alternation

On the basis of their syntactic and semantic properties, it is possible to characterize the two parts of the causative–anticausative alternation (the causative alternant and the anticausative alternant) as follows (cf. [19] for a Fr. example and the valency pattern). The causative alternant describes a change of state and both the actor (agent, cause, instrument) that brings about and the undergoer (patient, theme) that undergoes the change of state are expressed as arguments—the actor as a subject and the undergoer as a direct object. The anticausative alternant also describes a change of state but does not express or semantically imply an actor that brings about the event—the sole argument, namely the undergoer, is expressed in subject position (cf. Schäfer, 2009).

As concerns the formal encoding of the alternation in Romance languages, the causative and the anticausative alternant come in two variants: a formally marked and a formally unmarked variant (Table 3). As for the causative alternant, the unmarked variant is formed with a plain transitive verb, while the marked variant is formed with the lexical verb and a causative verb (e.g., Fr. faire ‘make’) (cf. Sheehan, 2016 for an overview of periphrastic causatives in Romance languages). In the case of the anticausative, the unmarked variant is formed with a plain intransitive verb and the marked variant is formed with the lexical verb and the reflexive clitic (e.g., Fr. se). The Fr. data in (26) and (27) exemplify the four coding strategies from Table 3.

Table 3. Causative–Anticausative Alternation in Romance Languages

Unmarked

Marked

Causative

Verb

faire/hacer/fare … ‘make’ + verb

Anticausative

Verb

se/se/si ... + verb

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In the labile encoding of the alternation, the same verb appears without any formal change in the causative and the anticausative. This encoding with an unmarked causative and an unmarked anticausative was very frequent in Late Lat. (Gianollo, 2014) and still occurs at the present-day stages of Fr. (Heidinger, 2010, 2014, 2015; Labelle, 1992; Rothemberg, 1974; Zribi-Hertz, 1987), It. (Cennamo, 2015, 2016; Cennamo & Jezek, 2011; Centineo, 1995; Folli, 2002), Sp. (Kailuweit, 2012; Mendikoetxea, 1999; Vivanco Gefaell, 2016), Catalan (Cat.; Rosselló, 2008; Vázquez, 1997), Brazilian and European Pt. (Cançado & Gonçalves, 2016; Carvalho, 2016; Ribeiro, 2011). The example in (28) represents labile encoding of the causative–anticausative alternation (Cançado & Gonçalves, 2016, p. 385). The verb adoecer ‘make/become sick’ switches between the anticausative and causative use without any formal change on the verb.

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Although labile encodings with an unmarked anticausative are quite common in Romance languages, marked anticausatives are also frequently used in the encoding of the alternation. In a study of the anticausative member in five Romance languages (Cat., Fr., It., European Pt., Sp.), the relevance of marked and unmarked encodings has been investigated (this is a previously unpublished study conducted by the author; the empirical basis is given in the appendix). This study involved analysis of the valency of 15 verb meanings (showing the range from Haspelmath, 1993) mainly based on lexicographic sources, both valency dictionaries and others.

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The verbs corresponding to all 15 verb meanings can be used (at least marginally) as an unmarked causative in all five languages. Therefore, only the encoding of the anticausative member of the alternation is considered and the verbs are classified as to whether they disallow extra morphology, allow extra morphology, or need extra morphology.

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For cross-linguistic comparison, different numeric values have been attributed to these three types: 1 = *uAC, mAC; 0.5 = uAC, mAC; 0 = uAC, *mAC (see appendix for details on data sources and data coding). A language thus has a score between 0 and 1, based on the average score for all verb meanings within a particular language. A score of 0 means that all 15 verb meanings are encoded with unmarked anticausatives (as in the labile type), and a score of 1 means that all 15 verb meanings are encoded with marked anticausatives. Based on this value, it is possible to rank the five languages with respect to their preference for marked anticausatives (the higher the value, the stronger the preference).

Catalan shows the strongest preference for marked anticausatives (0.83), followed by Sp. (0.77), Fr. (0.6), and finally It. and European Pt. (0.52). Because of its preference for labile verbs (cf. Carvalho, 2016), Brazilian Pt. would probably be located at the end of the hierarchy. The values show a general tendency toward an encoding with a marked anticausative as opposed to a labile encoding (i.e., one where there is no formal difference between the causative and the anticausative member of the alternation). The overall mean of the 15 verb meanings in the five languages amounts to 0.65. Unsurprisingly, verb meanings differ with respect to the encoding types. Some verb meanings tend toward the labile type, whereas others preferably form marked anticausatives. In the sample of verb meanings given in (29), the verb meanings ‘'split,’ ‘open,’ ‘close,’ ‘multiply,’ and ‘intensify’ are encoded with marked anticausatives, while the verb meanings ‘worsen’ (0.3), ‘increase’ (0.2), ‘improve’ (0.2), and ‘decrease’ (0) show a preference for unmarked anticausatives (and thus a labile encoding).

Given the existence of both marked and unmarked anticausatives in Romance languages, the question arises whether the two types show semantic differences. Such differences between marked and unmarked anticausatives have been identified with respect to aspectual and causal structure. Generally speaking, the reflexive clitic in Romance marked anticausatives signals telicity and a suppressed external cause (Cennamo, 2016, p. 971; but see also the overview in Dobrovie-Sorin, 2017). As concerns aspectual structure, marked anticausatives show a stronger affinity to a resultant state than unmarked anticausatives; researchers have assumed such a difference for Fr. (Heidinger, 2010; Labelle, 1992; Labelle & Doron, 2010; Legendre & Smolensky, 2010; Zribi-Hertz, 1987), It. (Cennamo, 2015; Cennamo & Jezek, 2011; Folli, 2002; Manente, 2008), Sp. (Vivanco Gefaell, 2016), European Pt. (Cennamo, 2016), and Cat. (Rosselló, 2008). As concerns causal structure, experts have said that an external cause is semantically more present in marked anticausatives than unmarked anticausatives. Researchers have found such a difference with respect to causal structure for Sp. (Heidinger, 2015; Kailuweit, 2011, 2012; Mendikoetxea, 1999, 2012; Rodríguez Ramalle, 2005) and Fr. (Labelle, 1992; Labelle & Doron, 2010; Heidinger, 2010, 2015; and Kailuweit, 2011, 2012; but see Martin & Schäfer, 2014 for a critical discussion).

Valency dictionaries and databases

  • Bianco, M. T. (1996). Valenzlexikon deutsch-italienisch: Dizionario della valenza verbale. Heidelberg, Germany: Groos.
  • Blumenthal, P., & Rovere, G. (1998). PONS-Wörterbuch der italienischen Verben: Konstruktionen, Bedeutungen, Übersetzungen. Stuttgart, Germany: Klett.
  • Busse, W. (1994). Dicionário sintáctico de verbos portugueses. Coimbra, Portugal: Livraria Almedina.
  • Busse, W. (2006). Valenzlexika in anderen Sprachen. In V. Ágel, L. M. Eichinger, & H.-W. Eroms (Eds.), Dependenz und Valenz: Ein internationales Handbuch der zeitgenössischen Forschung (HSK 25.2) (pp. 1424–1435). Berlin, Germany: de Gruyter.
  • Busse, W., & Dubost, J.-P. (1983). Französisches Verblexikon: Die Konstruktion der Verben im Französischen. Stuttgart, Germany: Klett-Cotta.
  • Cennamo, M., & Fabrizio, C. (2013). Italian valency patterns. In I. Hartmann, M. Haspelmath, & B. Taylor (Eds.), Valency patterns Leipzig. Leipzig, Germany: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
  • Cuervo, R. J. (1884). Diccionario de construcción y régimen de la lengua castellana. Paris, France: Libreros-Ed.
  • Engel, U., & Savin, E. (1983). Valenzlexikon deutsch-rumänisch: Dicţionar de valenţǎ german-romǎn. Heidelberg, Germany: Groos.
  • Francisco, F. (2001). Dicionário de verbos e regimes: mais de 11.000 verbos em suas diversas acepções e regências (44th ed.). São Paulo, Brazil: Globo.
  • Ginebra, J., & Montserrat, A. (1999). Diccionari d’ús dels verbs catalans. Barcelona, Spain: Edicions 62.
  • Luft, C. P. (2012). Dicionário prático de regência verbal (9th ed.). São Paulo, Brazil: Atica.
  • Náñez Fernández, E. (2001). Diccionario de construcciones sintácticas del español: Preposiciones (2nd ed.). Colección de estudios/Universidad Autónoma de Madrid: Vol. 70. Madrid, Spain: UAM Ed.
  • Rall, D., Rall, M., & Zorrilla, O. (1980). Diccionario de valencias verbales: Aleman-español. Tübingen, Germany: Narr.
  • Schumacher, H. (2006). Kontrastive zweisprachige Valenzwörterbücher. In V. Ágel, L. M. Eichinger, & H.-W. Eroms (Eds.), Dependenz und Valenz (HSK 25.2) (pp. 1345–1446). Berlin, Germany: de Gruyter.
  • Soto Andión, X. (2014). Los diccionarios de construcciones verbales en las lenguas romances. In M. J. Domínguez Vázquez, X. Gómez Guinovart, & C. Valcárcel Riveiro (Eds.), Lexicografía de las lenguas románicas. Berlin, Germany: de Gruyter.
  • van den Eynde, K., & Mertens, P. (2017). Dicovalence. Leuven, Belgium: ORTOLANG.

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Appendix

Data Coding

Different numeric values have been assigned to verbs depending on the encoding of the anticausative member of the alternation: 1 = *uAC, mAC; 0.5 = uAC, mAC; 0 = uAC, *mAC. If a verb meaning has two corresponding verbs in a language, both verbs have been analyzed and a mean score has been calculated (e.g., French casser and briser ‘break’ differ in that casser allows for both uAC and mAC, while briser is limited to mAC; the mean score for the verb meaning ‘break’ is thus 0.75 (casser = 0.5, briser = 1)).

Verbs

Table A lists the verbs that have been analyzed in the five languages. In some cases, more than one verb has been analyzed for a given verb meaning.

Table A. Verbs Analyzed for Encoding of Anticausative

Verb in English

Catalan

French

Italian

(European)

Portuguese

Spanish

Split

Dividir

Diviser//Fendre

Fendere//Dividire

Dividir

Hender//Dividir

Break

Trencar

Casser//Briser

Rompere

Quebrar

Romper

Open

Obrir

Ouvrir

Aprire

Abrir

Abrir

Close

Tancar

Fermer

Chiudere

Fechar

Cerrar

Increase

Incrementar//Augmentar

Augmenter

Aumentare

Aumentar

Aumentar

Decrease

Disminuir

Diminuer

Diminuire

Diminuir

Disminuir

Improve

Millorar

Améliorer

Migliorare

Melhorar

Mejorar

Worsen

Agreujar

Empirer

Peggiorare

Piorar

Empeorar

Multiply

Multiplicar

Multiplier

Moltiplicare

Multiplicar

Multiplicar

Intensify

Intensificar

Intensifier

Intensificare

Intensificar

Intensificar

Melt

Fondre

Fondre

Sciogliere//Fondere

Fundir//Derreter

Fundir//Derretir

Freeze

Congelar

Geler

Gelare//Congelare

Gelar

Congelar

Dry

Assecar

Sécher//Assecher

Asciugare

Secar

Secar

Rot

Podrir

Pourrir

Marcire

Apodrecer

Pudrir

Sink

Enfonsar

Couler

Affondare

Afundar

Hundir

Data Sources

Catalan

Ginebra, J., & Montserrat, A. (1999). Diccionari d’ús dels verbs catalans. Barcelona, Spain: Edicions 62.

French

ATILF–CNRS & Université de Lorraine (Ed.). (n.d.). Trésor de la langue française informatisé. Nancy, France.

Italian

Blumenthal, P., & Rovere, G. (1998). PONS–Wörterbuch der italienischen Verben: Konstruktionen, Bedeutungen, Übersetzungen. Stuttgart, Germany: Klett.

Cennamo, M. (2015). Valency patterns in Italian. In A. Malchukov & B. Comrie (Eds.), Valency classes in the world’s languages. Introducing the framework, and case studies from Africa and Eurasia. Vol. 1 (pp. 417–481). Berlin, Germany: De Gruyter Mouton.

Folli, R. (2002). Constructing telicity in English and Italian (Dissertation). Oxford, England: University of Oxford.

Serianni, L. (Ed.). (1998–1999). Grande dizionario della lingua italiana moderna. Enciclopedia europea. Milan, Italy: Garzanti.

European Portuguese

Busse, W. (1994). Dicionário sintáctico de verbos portugueses. Coimbra, Portugal: Livraria Almedina.

Dicionário da língua portuguesa (2010). Porto, Portugal: Porto Editora.

Spanish

Moliner, M. (2007). Diccionario de uso del español (3rd ed.). Madrid, Spain: Gredos.

Results

Table B shows for each verb meaning the encoding of the anticausative member in the alternation: 1 = *uAC, mAC; 0.5 = uAC, mAC; 0 = uAC, *mAC.

Table B. Encoding of Anticausative

Verb in English

Catalan

French

Italian

(European)

Portuguese

Spanish

Average per

Verb Meaning

Split

1

1

1

1

1

1.00

Break

1

0.75

1

0.5

1

0.85

Open

1

1

1

1

1

1.00

Close

1

1

1

1

1

1.00

Increase

0.5

0.5

0

0

0

0.20

Decrease

0

0

0

0

0

0.00

Improve

0

1

0

0

0

0.20

Worsen

1

0

0

0

0.5

0.30

Multiply

1

1

1

1

1

1.00

Intensify

1

1

1

1

1

1.00

Melt

1

0

0.75

0.75

1

0.70

Freeze

1

0.5

0.5

0.5

1

0.70

Dry

1

0.75

0.5

0.5

1

0.75

Rot

1

0.5

0

0

1

0.50

Sink

1

0

0

0.5

1

0.50

Average per

Language

0.83

0.60

0.52

0.52

0.77

0.65