Verb class, case, and order: A crosslinguistic experiment on non-nominative experiencers

  • 1 Department of Linguistics, University of Stuttgart, Keplerstr. 17, 70174 Stuttgart, Germany
  • 2 Institut für deutsche Sprache und Linguistik, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Unter den Linden 6, 10099 Berlin, Germany
Anne Temme and Elisabeth Verhoeven

Abstract

In several languages, non-nominative experiencers tend to appear early on in utterances, which frequently triggers deviations from the preferred word order. These observations are based on linearization preferences, which in most cases involve gradient levels that cannot be determined precisely through singular intuitions. This article presents a crosslinguistic experimental study on languages with different word order properties (German, Greek, Hungarian, and Korean), offering precise estimates for the effects of experiencer objects on linearization. The findings reveal a strong effect of case in the sense that dative experiencers appear more frequently early in an utterance than accusative experiencers. Based on the specific properties of the investigated languages, we are revising previous hypotheses about the source of the dative/accusative asymmetry and conclude that the asymmetry relates to phrase-structural differences. Accusative experiencers are fronted more frequently than patients of canonical transitive verbs. We argue that this phenomenon relates to a preference for selecting experiencers as aboutness topics, which explains the fact that experiencer-first structures appear in syntactic constructions that may be triggered by aboutness. The results show that the experiencer-first principle interacts with properties of the syntactic structure. The differences between languages can thus be traced back to the basic properties of syntactic typology.

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