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From movement into action to manner of causation: changes in argument mapping in the into-causative

  • Susanne Flach ORCID logo EMAIL logo
From the journal Linguistics


Over the last 300 years, the into-causative (he talked his father into giving him money) increased in frequency and lexical diversity. Changes of this kind are often taken as evidence of functional expansion. From a Construction Grammar (CxG) perspective, this paper argues that what appears to be a loss of restrictions on the verbal slot results from changes in argument mapping links. As the construction provides the argument roles by mapping semantics (causer, causee, result) onto syntax (subject, object, oblique), stronger mapping links increasingly facilitated the use of verbs that are semantically and syntactically atypical for the expression of causation. Data from the Corpus of Historical American English confirm three predictions of this hypothesis with respect to shifts in (i) the semantic classes of matrix verbs, (ii) their general argument structure preferences, and (iii) voice-marking. The results provide evidence for a subtle semantic change from movement into action to manner of causation. The increase in frequency and productivity are hence explained as the consequence of the syntactic form becoming a more reliable cue for causative meaning. We discuss implications for models of language change against the background of current issues in Diachronic Construction Grammar (DCxG) pertaining to constructionalization vs. constructional change.

Corresponding author: Susanne Flach, Englisches Seminar, Universität Zürich, Plattenstrasse 47, 8032Zürich, Switzerland, E-mail:

Award Identifier / Grant number: 100012L/169490/1


The research was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF grant no. 100012L/169490/1, PI Martin Hilpert). I thank two anonymous reviewers, Martin Hilpert, Elena Smirnova, and Anatol Stefanowitsch for their helpful comments, constructive feedback, and food for thought. The usual disclaimers apply.


Classification of matrix verbs:

communication/persuasion. argue, becoax, cajole, charm, cheer, chitchat, coax, convince, counsel, fast-talk, filibuster, flatter, hearten, heckle, impress, intrigue, invite, jive-talk, jolly, natter, overpersuade, persuade, please, romance, rouse, salestalk, scream, sign-talk, smooth-tongue, soft-soap, soothe, spur, stir, sweet-talk, talk, wheedle, woo.

fear/irritation. aggravate, alarm, anger, annoy, astonish, awe, badger, bewilder, bewitch, boss, bother, bribe, browbeat, bully, challenge, chill, chivvy, conjure, cow, cry, curse, damn, daunt, dazzle, degrade, devil, distress, dog, educate, egg, embarrass, enrage, exasperate, exhort, fret, frighten, frustrate, gall, goad, guilt, harass, harry, hector, horrify, hound, humiliate, influence, insult, intimidate, irk, irritate, jar, jeer, josh, laugh, lie, lull, manipulate, nag, needle, nerve, nettle, nudge, overwhelm, panic, pester, pique, preach, provoke, psych, quiz, railroad, reason, ridicule, sadden, scald, scare, school, scold, scowl, shame, shellshock, shock, snow, spoil, spook, stampede, stare, startle, starve, sting, storm, stun, stupefy, surprise, sway, tease, terrify, terrorize, threaten, urge, victimize, wear, weary, witch, worry.

force/pressure. abuse, batter, beat, blackjack, blackmail, blow, bludgeon, bomb, bounce, brainwash, bulldoze, captivate, chase, coerce, compel, corner, corral, corrupt, cross-ruff, crowd, crush, cudgel, discipline, dope, dose, draft, drag, dragoon, draw, drug, elbow, flog, force, hammer, haul, henpeck, herd, high-pressure, hook, horsewhip, hurry, hustle, impact, impel, incite, intoxicate, jog, jostle, kick, kick-start, lasso, lock, maneuver, massage, maul, muscle, paralyze, peck, pinprick, poke, press, pressure, prick, prod, propel, pull, push, rope, rush, sandbag, scourge, shake, shred, shunt, slash, slave-drive, smash, snooker, squeeze, steam-roll, steel, stiffen, strangle, strike, strong-arm, subdue, suck, sucker, suppress, sweep, thrash, thumbscrew, torment, torture, transfix, trap, trip, whip, whipsaw.

trickery/deception.allure, attract, bait, bamboozle, befool, befuddle, beguile, bejuggle, betray, bluff, buffalo, cheat, con, confuse, cozen, deceive, decoy, delude, discombobulate, doctor, dupe, ensnare, entice, entrap, euchred, fake, fascinate, finagle, finess, flimflam, fool, fox, gammon, gull, hoax, hocuss, hoodwink, hornswoggled, humbug, hypnotize, inveigle, jockey, juggle, kid, lure, mesmerize, misconstrue, misguide, mislead, mystify, outwit, rook, screw, seduce, self-deceive, shanghai, sidetrack, spoof, swindle, tempt, trick, wangle, will.

miscellaneous. act, address, anesthetize, anglicize, back, bestir, blind, boink, brainstorm, buy, calm, careful, carry, catalyze, catapult, co-opt, coach, comfort, condition, construe, contrive, convert, cue, dare, deny, direct, drive, ease, enchant, entertain, excite, fan, fashion, fashionate, fatigue, form, freeze, galvanize, get, goose, groom, guide, huckster, induce, initiate, interest, jade, jolt, kiss, lead, lecture, legislate, lick, midwived, missionary, mistake, mobilize, mold, motivate, nurture, pat, peckay, pervert, plow, precipitate, program, project, rasp, rassle, rationalize, re-educate, regiment, scene, socialize, soften, sophisticate, sphroxify, spirit, spoon, steer, stimulate, subsidize, swing, systematize, tick, tickle, tinker, train, transmute, trigger, vamp, vote, wheel, work.


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Received: 2020-12-15
Accepted: 2020-12-15
Published Online: 2021-01-13
Published in Print: 2021-01-27

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