(De)composing the middle : A minimalist approach to middles in English and Swedish

Sammanfattning: This thesis is concerned with a particular type of generic sentence that is referred to as the ‘middle construction’ in the literature. The aim of the thesis is to offer a theoretical account of middles couched within the non-lexicalist framework of Distributed Morphology (see Halle & Marantz 1993 and subsequent work), and, more generally, within the Minimalist Program (see e.g. Chomsky 2000, 2001, 2004). Following Lekakou (2005), I define middles as disposition ascriptions to understood objects. Disposition ascriptions are generic statements in which the generalization is based on properties of the entity in the grammatical subject position. In middles, the grammatical subject is an underlying object. Middles are often claimed to involve Agent demotion and Patient/Theme promotion. In my proposal, however, neither demotion nor promotion exists as independent operations. My claim is that there is no Agent present at any level. Instead the agentive "flavour" is, in most cases, due to the semantics of the root underlying the middle verb. The Patient/Theme is promoted to subject because the verb is defective and cannot assign case to the Patient/Theme. With the semantic definition employed in the thesis, I have also been able to identify a Swedish construction not previously analyzed as a middle. My analysis of the Swedish construction takes the novel account I propose for English middles as the point of departure. In both languages, the middle is argued to be a generic unaccusative construction. I decompose middles into their component parts (roots and grammatical features) and show that the characteristic properties of middles follow from properties of these components. The semantics of the root underlying the middle verb is argued to play a decisive role for the agentive interpretation of middles in both languages, and, in English, also for the requirement for modification. While Swedish middles employ a participial structure, there is no verbal morphology signalling the change in argument structure in English middles. Roots with agentive semantics normally cannot appear without an Agent argument when they surface as active verbs. In middles this is possible however, due to the dispositional semantics of the construction. The dispositional reading arises in the presence of a generic operator which is overtly instantiated in both English and Swedish in the form of a modifying element. Without a modifier, the sentences lose their middle interpretation. Since middles are subsumed under the category of disposition ascription, I also discuss their status within this broader group of generics.

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