Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



Much research on unaccusativity has been done over the past three-and-a-half decades since the formulation of the Unaccusative Hypothesis (Perlmutter 1978). Researchers have examined the semantics of intransitive verbs as well as their syntax to account for the classification of a verb as either unaccusative or unergative; however, for the most part, a similar conclusion across researchers has been reached that neither the semantics of the verb nor the syntactic structure is sufficient by itself to satisfy certain diagnostics of unaccusativity (Legendre and Sorace 2003). Levin and Rappaport Hovav (1995) argue that the syntactic classification of all verbs is semantically determined; therefore, the unaccusativity or unergativity of a verb is syntactically encoded but semantically determined (Levin and Rappaport Hovav 1989, 1995; Legendre et al. 1990, 1991). However, this does not reveal which semantic properties of intransitive verbs in a given language or across languages determine its syntactic classification. Optimality Theory (Prince and Smolensky 1991, 1993; McCarthy and Prince 1993) is a theory of how constraints interact with one another. The theory does not commit a researcher to using a particular approach to syntactic or phonological structure, but provides a framework for applying constraints and evaluating structural representations (McCarthy 2011). The current dissertation uses an optimality-theoretical approach to split-intransitivity (i.e., unaccusativity) in Swahili and Hittite to demonstrate how variation across languages arises from the distinct constraint ranking that characterizes each language. Additionally, this research suggests the use of a partial constraint ranking (i.e., floating constraint) to account for variable behavior verbs within and across languages. Findings from this dissertation indicate that there are principles that predict the unaccusativity or unergativity for a particular class of intransitive verbs and that there is another class of intransitive verbs whose unaccusativity or unergativity varies across languages. This conclusion supports the moderate form of Perlmutter’s (1978) Unaccusative Hypothesis.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Brody, Mary J.

Included in

Linguistics Commons