Gradient auxiliary selection and impersonal passivization in German: An experimental investigation

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The main purpose of this paper is to provide experimental evidence that two syntactic reflexes of split intransitivity in German--the selection of perfective auxiliaries and the impersonal passive construction--are sensitive to an aspectual/thematic hierarchy of verb classes. We show that there is a split between 'core' verbs that elicit categorical intuitions from native speakers, and 'intermediate' verbs that exhibit gradience. Furthermore, crossdialectical differences between northern and southern German with respect to auxiliary selection tend to occur only with intermediate verbs. We argue that these findings lend support to the view that the unaccusative/unergative distinction is considerably more unstable than often assumed, and suggest that projectionist theories of the lexicon-syntax interface such as those directly derived from the Unaccusative Hypothesis may not be able to account for the systematic variation exhibited by the data.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-108
Number of pages52
JournalJournal of Linguistics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2003



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