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The syntax of argument structure: Evidence from Italian complex predicates1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 March 2012

University of Ulster
University of Arizona
Authors' addresses: (Folli)University of Ulster, School of Communication, Jordanstown Campus, Newtonabbey BT37 0QB,
(Harley) Department of Linguistics, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721-0028,


This paper provides an analysis of Italian complex predicates formed by combining a feminine nominalization in -ata and one of three light verbs: fare ‘make’, dare ‘give’ and prendere ‘take’. We show that the constraints governing the choice of light verb follow from a syntactic approach to argument structure, and that several interpretive differences between complex and simplex predicates formed from the same verb root can be accounted for in a compositional, bottom–up approach. These differences include variation in creation vs. affected interpretations of Theme objects, implications concerning the size of the event described, the (un)availability of a passive alternant, and the agentivity or lack thereof of the subject argument.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

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We are grateful to audiences at the 39th Linguistic Symposium on Romance Languages, at the University of Arizona, March, 2009; the 41st meeting of the North Eastern Linguistic Society, at the University of Pennsylvania, October, 2010; the Temporalité: Typologie et Acquisition (TEMPTYPAC) symposium at CNRS Pouchet/Paris 8, March 2010; and the University of Arizona Complex Predicates Seminar, April 2011 for helpful discussion and feedback. We would also like to thank Journal of Linguistics referees for their extensive careful and very helpful feedback on both content and presentation. Any shortcomings and mistakes, of course, remain entirely our responsibility. This work was made possible by a University of Ulster Institute for Research in Social Science Visiting Professorship granted to Harley.



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