Jim Wood

Month: July, 2012

An unboring discussion

A nice excerpt from Larry Horn’s 2005 paper on the un- prefix, bringing poetry to linguistics.


“I commend you for that.”


Lay {waste} to {waste}

Nicely symmetric idiom:

  1. He laid waste to the place.
  2. He laid the place to waste.



I think I’d have spelled it “deliciosity”.

Reflexively Quiet

The verb quiet can be used as a causative, with or without the particle down. Some examples from the web:

Without down:

  1. Shut Up and Play 9 summer apps that will quiet your kids. (source)
  2. It’ll help calm and quiet your kids, before they settle down to sleep. (source)

With down:

  1. I’m wondering if you could possibly quiet your kids down a bit… (source)
  2. If you were sincerely sorry, you would quiet your kids down. (source)

However, only with down can quiet be used as an intransitive verb with a reflexive interpretation.

  1. I decided to quiet down.
  2. * I decided to quiet.

(6) is ungrammatical on any reading, whereas (5) is grammatical only on the reading ‘I decided to quiet myself down’. Why is the particle down important here? In my dissertation (chs. 4 and 5), I proposed that certain argument positions introduced by prepositions and particles can be left unsaturated in a way that leads to a reflexive interpretation. Direct objects without a preposition, particle or small clause of any kind are special; following work by Alec Marantz, such direct objects are not arguments in the same sense as external arguments, applied arguments, or the subjects of small clauses, but are incorporated more directly into the verb’s event structure. That is, the direct object in (1-2) doesn’t have the same status as the direct object in (3-4); in (3-4), the object is a thematic argument of the particle down. This is the sort of argument that can be left semantically unsaturated, such that it forms a complex predicate where the external argument gets two theta-roles in (5).

Of course, there are intransitive verbs like wash, which seem to be intransitive with a reflexive interpretation. Why isn’t a particle important for these verbs?

  1. I decided to wash up.
  2. I decided to wash.

One possibility is that verbs of the sort in (8) are primarily interpreted as activities, with the causative-result being inferred but not entailed. However these verbs are built and interpreted, the particle is necessary for the event structure to entail a reflexive causative-result. Since a verb like quiet in (1-6) names a result and not an activity, it requires a particle in order to be interpreted as an intransitive reflexive, ruling out (6) in contrast to (8).

Icelandic inalienable breaking and “incorporation”

Very interesting construction– here you have a body-part prefixed to a verb like “break” (e.g. “he arm-broke”). At some point, I’d love to study structures like this from the perspective of inalienable possession structure(s) cross-linguistically. But I wouldn’t mind if someone beat me to it :-)


  1. Fara á skíði (hef ekki gert það síðan ég handleggsbraut mig 9 ára). (source)


  1. Talið er að hann hafi handleggsbrotnað. (source)

Note in (2) the intransitive –na form brotna ‘break’ is used, whereas in (2) the transitive form brjóta ‘break’ is used with a reflexive object in the accusative case. The transitive form can take a non-reflexive object as well. For example, (3) is a headline in an online newspaper; (4) comes from the body of the same article, and uses the intransitive form.

  1. Handleggsbraut kennarann sinn. (source)
  2. 14 ára nemandi í Hvaleyrarskóla í Hafnarfirði hrinti kennara sínum í síðustu viku með þeim afleiðingum að kennarinn handlegs- og hryggjarliðsbrotnaði.

The example in (4) also shows (i) coordination of the prefixed body part and (ii) another bone other than ‘arm’. A brief google search leads me to suspect that this is a fairly productive construction, in terms of its applicability to various body parts, but I haven’t confirmed this.

(Does hryggjarliður refer to “spine” or “vertabra”? The article doesn’t seem to imply that the teacher was hurt as badly as would be implied by the English sentence Her back broke or She broke her back.)

Ellipsis at the casino

A waitress at a casino was passing out drinks, and a couple of dollar bills fell into a beer. The waitress said that she would get another beer, since the money clearly contaminated it. Referring to the money, she said, very fluidly, “Think of where it could’ve and probably was,” an ungrammatical sentence to me and no doubt many others as well, but maybe not an entirely unprincipled speech error.

13 would be bad luck


(Hilton in Providence, RI.) Such a strange tradition.



So I guess “wading” doesn’t qualify as swimming?

Resultative in an adjectival passive