The semantics of syntactic choice an analysis of English emotion verbs

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Psychological verbs ('`psych-verbs'') such as admire, amaze, fear, and frighten, have long been known to exhibit marked syntactic behavior in many languages. This behavior has inspired numerous analyses which assume that there is a unified explanation for the observed patterns. In this dissertation, I focus on the more problematic class of psych-verbs, the so-called Object-Experiencer (Obj-Exp) verbs (e.g. amaze, depress, frighten, fascinate) and argue, as some others have, that the explanation for their unusual character is primarily semantic in nature, and can be traced back to the ways in which humans conceptualize psychological events and processes. It is commonly argued that the special behavior of these verbs obtains only in their stative and/or more controversially non-agentive readings. Through qualitative and quantitative analyses of the semantic properties of Obj-Exp verbs and their arguments, I explore a controversial topic in previous research: the interaction of stativity and passivization among different subclasses of Obj-Exp verbs in English. Analysis of corpus data shows that eventive and stative uses are available to all Obj-Exp verbs in both the active and passive. I show that the choice between active and passive uses is particularly sensitive to the causal role of the stimulus and the nature of the emotion denoted by the verb; together these determine the linguistic construal of the situation as either a causative process or an attitudinal state. Additionally, I examine the variable (un-)acceptability of English Obj-Exp verbs in agentive contexts, and offer experimental and corpus data showing that a given verb's acceptability in an agentive context directly correlates with the tendency for its emotion to be iv associated with a controllable antecedent. These facts argue against analyzing differences in agentivity among psych-verbs at the level of lexical semantic structure, and instead suggest treating agentivity as an inference arising from the total integration of semantic, syntactic, and contextual information in the clause. Overall, the findings of these linguistic studies align well with recent theories developed in the psychological literature on emotion.


Type of resource text
Form electronic; electronic resource; remote
Extent 1 online resource.
Publication date 2013
Issuance monographic
Language English


Associated with Grafmiller, Jason
Associated with Stanford University, Department of Linguistics.
Primary advisor Levin, Beth
Thesis advisor Levin, Beth
Thesis advisor Bresnan, Joan
Thesis advisor Wasow, Thomas
Advisor Bresnan, Joan
Advisor Wasow, Thomas


Genre Theses

Bibliographic information

Statement of responsibility Jason Grafmiller.
Note Submitted to the Department of Linguistics.
Thesis Thesis (Ph.D.)--Stanford University, 2013.
Location electronic resource

Access conditions

© 2013 by Jason Grafmiller
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 Unported license (CC BY-NC).

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