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Ne-cliticisation and split intransitivity

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 July 2004

University of Manchester


I consider a number of constructions with ne-cliticisation, which at first sight would seem to be problematic vis-à-vis the hypothesis that the Italian partitive clitic ne is a diagnostic of unaccusativity. Structures with ne-cliticisation can receive an existential interpretation in sentence focus. I argue that, in the putatively non-canonical domains, ne realises the argument of a stage-level existential predicate (see Carlson 1977; Diesing 1992; Pustejovsky 1995), which is not spelled out in syntax, but only figures in the semantic representation of the sentence. My findings highlight the role of focus structure in unaccusativity phenomena (see Van Valin 1993a; Levin & Rappaport Hovav 1995; Lambrecht 2000, among others), and support the analysis of split intransitivity in terms of non-deterministic correspondence between discourse, semantics and syntax.

Research Article
2004 Cambridge University Press

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The research reported here was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Board. I wish to acknowledge publicly this generous support. I am thankful to my native-speaker informants (Martina Irsara, Alessandra Lombardi, Roberta Middleton, and Stefania Tufi), and to Barry Blake, Daniel Everett, Robert Van Valin, Jr. and Nigel Vincent, as well as two anonymous JL referees, for comments on a previous version of this paper.
The following abbreviations are used in the paper: adj: adjective, ARG/arg: argument, CL/cl: clitic/cliticisation, F: feminine, FUT: future, INGR: INGRESSIVE (a symbol of punctual change), lit.: literally, LS: Logical Structure (semantic representation), M: masculine, ne-cl: ne-cliticisation, NUC: nucleus (syntactic locus of the predicate), PL: plural, POCS: Post-Core Slot, PRED/pred: predicate, PST: past, QA: agentive quale, QUANT: quantified, REFL: reflexive, RRG: Role and Reference Grammar, SG: singular, VV&LP: Van Valin & La Polla 1997