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4 Split VPs: VP shells in ergative structures

4 Split VPs: VP shells in ergative structures

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9.4 Split VPs: VP shells in ergative structures

predicates like those italicised in (29) below which have a (bold-printed) subject
and two (bracketed) complements:
(29 (a)
(b)
(c)
(d)

He rolled [the ball] [down the hill]
He filled [the bath] [with water]
He broke [the vase] [into pieces]
They withdrew [the troops] [from Ruritania]

If we assume that complements are sisters to heads, it might seem as if the V-bar
constituent headed by rolled in (29a) has the structure (30) below:
V'

(30)
V
rolled

DP
the ball

PP
down the hill

However, a structure such as (30) is problematic within the framework adopted
here. After all, it is a ternary-branching structure (V-bar branches into the three
separate constituents, namely the V rolled, the DP the ball and the PP down
the hill), and this poses an obvious problem within a framework which assumes
that the merger operation which forms phrases is an inherently binary operation which can only combine constituents in a pairwise fashion. Moreover, a
ternary-branching structure such as (30) would wrongly predict that the string
the ball down the hill does not form a constituent, and so cannot be coordinated
with another similar string (given the traditional assumption that only identical
constituents can be conjoined) – yet this prediction is falsified by sentences such
as:
(31)

He rolled the ball down the hill and the acorn up the mountain

How can we overcome these problems?
One answer is to suppose that transitive structures like He rolled the ball down
the hill have a complex internal structure which is parallel in some respects to
causative structures like He made the ball roll down the hill (where make has
roughly the same meaning as cause). On this view the ball roll down the hill
would serve as a VP complement of a null causative verb (which can be thought
of informally as an invisible counterpart of make). We can further suppose that
the null causative verb is affixal in nature and so triggers raising of the verb roll
to adjoin to the causative verb, deriving a structure loosely paraphraseable as He
made + roll [the ball roll down the hill], where roll is a trace copy of the moved
verb roll. We could then say that the string the ball down the hill in (31) is a
VP remnant headed by a trace copy of the moved verb roll. Since this string is a
VP constituent, we correctly predict that it can be coordinated with another VP
remnant like the acorn up the mountain – as is indeed the case in (31).
Analysing structures like roll the ball down the hill as transitive counterparts
of intransitive structures is by no means implausible, since many three-place
transitive predicates like roll can also be used as two-place intransitive predicates

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in which the (italicised) DP which immediately follows the (bold-printed) verb
in the three-place structure functions as the subject in the two-place structure –
as we see from sentence-pairs such as the following:
(32) (a)
(b)

They will roll the ball down the hill
The ball will roll down the hill

(33) (a)
(b)

He filled the bath with water
The bath filled with water

(34) (a)
(b)

He broke the vase into pieces
The vase broke into pieces

(35) (a)
(b)

They withdrew the troops from Ruritania
The troops withdrew from Ruritania

(36) (a)
(b)

They closed the store down
The store closed down

(37) (a)
(b)

They moved the headquarters to Brooklyn
The headquarters moved to Brooklyn

(Verbs which allow this dual use as either three-place or two-place predicates are
sometimes referred to as ergative predicates.) Moreover, the italicised DP seems
to play the same thematic role with respect to the bold-printed verb in each pair
of examples: for example, the ball is the theme argument of roll (i.e. the entity
which undergoes a rolling motion) both in (32a) They will roll the ball down the
hill and in (32b) The ball will roll down the hill. Evidence that the ball plays
the same semantic role in both sentences comes from the fact that the italicised
argument is subject to the same pragmatic restrictions on the choice of expression
which can fulfil the relevant argument function in each type of sentence: cf.
(38) (a)
(b)

The ball/the rock/!the theory/!sincerity will roll down the hill
They will roll the ball/the rock/!the theory/!sincerity down the hill

If principles of UG correlate thematic structure with syntactic structure in a uniform fashion (in accordance with Baker’s 1988 Uniform Theta Assignment
Hypothesis/UTAH), then it follows that two arguments which fulfil the same
thematic function with respect to a given predicate must be merged in the same
position in the syntax.
An analysis within the spirit of UTAH would be to assume that since the ball
is clearly the subject of roll in (32a) The ball will roll down the hill, then it must
also be the case that the ball originates as the subject of roll in (32b) They will
roll the ball down the hill. But if this is so, how come the ball is positioned
after the verb roll in (32b), when subjects are normally positioned before their
verbs? A plausible answer to this question within the framework we are adopting
here is to suppose that the verb roll moves from its initial (post-subject) position
after the ball into a higher verb position to the left of the ball. More specifically,
adapting ideas put forward by Larson (1988, 1990), Hale and Keyser (1991, 1993,

9.4 Split VPs: VP shells in ergative structures

1994) and Chomsky (1995), let’s suppose that the (b) examples in sentences like
(32)–(37) are simple VPs, but that the (a) examples are split VP structures which
comprise an outer shell and an inner core.
More concretely, let’s make the following assumptions. In (32b) The ball will
roll down the hill, the V roll is merged with its PP complement down the hill to
form the V-bar roll down the hill, and this is then merged with the DP the ball to
form the VP structure (39) below:
VP

(39)

V'

DP
The ball
V
roll

PP
down the hill

In the case of (32b), the resulting VP will then be merged with the T constituent
will to form the T-bar will roll down the hill; the [epp] and ␸-features of [T will]
trigger raising of the subject the ball into spec-TP to become subject of will (in
the manner shown by the dotted arrow below), deriving:
TP

(40)

T'

DP
The ball
T
will

VP
DP
the ball

V'
V
roll

PP
down the hill

The resulting TP is subsequently merged with a null declarative C constituent.
(Throughout this chapter, we simplify exposition by omitting details like this
which are not directly relevant to the point at hand.)
Now consider how we derive (32a) They will roll the ball down the hill. Let’s
suppose that the derivation proceeds as before, until we reach the stage where
the VP structure (39) the ball roll down the hill has been formed. But this time,
let’s assume that the VP in (39) is then merged as the complement of an abstract
causative light verb (v) – i.e. a null verb with much the same causative interpretation as the verb make (so that They will roll the ball down the hill has a similar
interpretation to They will make the ball roll down the hill). Let’s also suppose that
this causative light verb is affixal in nature (or has a strong V-feature), and that the
verb roll adjoins to it, forming a structure which can be paraphrased literally as
‘make+roll the ball down the hill’ – a structure which has an overt counterpart in
French structures like faire rouler la balle en bas de la colline (literally ‘make roll
the ball into bottom of the hill’). The resulting v-bar structure is then merged with

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the subject they (which is assigned the ␪-role of agent argument of the causative
light verb), to form the complex vP (41) below (lower-case letters being used to
denote the light verb, and the dotted arrow showing movement of the verb roll to
adjoin to the null light verb ø ):
vP

(41)
PRN
They

v'
v
ø +roll

VP
V'

DP
the ball
V
roll

PP
down the hill

Subsequently, the vP in (41) merges with the T constituent will, the subject they
raises into spec-TP, and the resulting TP is merged with a null declarative complementiser, forming the structure (42) below (where the dotted arrows show
movements which have taken place in the course of the derivation):
CP

(42)

TP

C
ø
PRN
They

T'
T
will

vP
PRN
they

v'
v
ø +roll

VP
DP
the ball

V'
V
roll

PP
down the hill

The analysis in (42) correctly specifies the word order in (32a) They will roll the
ball down the hill. (See Stroik 2001 for arguments that do is used to support a
null light verb in elliptical structures such as John will roll a ball down the hill
and Paul will do so as well.)
The VP-shell analysis in (42) provides an interesting account of an otherwise
puzzling aspect of the syntax of sentences like (32a) – namely the fact that adverbs
like gently can be positioned either before roll or after the ball, as we see from:
(43) (a)
(b)

They will gently roll the ball down the hill
They will roll the ball gently down the hill

9.4 Split VPs: VP shells in ergative structures

Let’s suppose that adverbs like gently are adjuncts, and that adjunction is a different kind of operation from merger. Merger extends a constituent into a larger
type of projection, so that (e.g.) merging T with an appropriate complement
extends T into T-bar, and merging T-bar with an appropriate specifier extends
T-bar into TP. By contrast, adjunction extends a constituent into a larger projection of the same type, e.g. merging a moved V with a minimal projection like
T forms a larger T constituent; merging an adjunct with an intermediate projection like T-bar extends T-bar into another T-bar constituent; merging an adjunct
with a maximal projection like TP forms an even larger TP – and so on. (See
Stepanov 2001 and Chomsky 2001 for technical accounts of differences between
adjunction and merger.) Let’s suppose that gently is the kind of adverb which
can adjoin to an intermediate verbal projection. Given this assumption and the
light-verb analysis in (42), we can then propose the following derivations for
(43a,b).
In (43a), the verb roll merges with the PP down the hill to form the V-bar
roll down the hill, and this V-bar in turn merges with the DP the ball to form
the VP the ball roll down the hill, with the structure shown in (39) above.
This VP then merges with a null causative light verb ø to which the verb roll
adjoins, forming the v-bar ø +roll the ball roll down the hill. The resulting v-bar
merges with the adverb gently to form the larger v-bar gently ø +roll the ball
roll down the hill; and this v-bar in turn merges with the subject they to form
the vP they gently ø +roll the ball roll down the hill. The vP thereby formed
merges with the T constituent will, forming the T-bar will they gently ø +roll
the ball roll down the hill. The subject they raises to spec-TP forming the TP
they will they gently ø +roll the ball roll down the hill. The resulting TP is then
merged with a null declarative complementiser to derive the structure shown in
simplified form in (44) below (with arrows showing movements which have taken
place):
CP

(44)

TP

C
ø
PRN
They

T'
T
will

vP
PRN
they

v'
v'

ADV
gently
v
ø +roll

VP
DP
the ball

V'
V
roll

PP
down the hill

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The analysis in (44) correctly specifies the word order in (43a) They will gently
roll the ball down the hill.
Now consider how (43b) They will roll the ball gently down the hill is derived.
As before, the verb roll merges with the PP down the hill, forming the V-bar roll
down the hill. The adverb gently then merges with this V-bar to form the larger
V-bar gently roll down the hill. This V-bar in turn merges with the DP the ball
to form the VP the ball gently roll down the hill. The resulting VP is merged
with a causative light verb [v ø] to which the verb roll adjoins, so forming the
v-bar ø +roll the ball gently roll down the hill. This v-bar is then merged with
the subject they to form the vP they ø +roll the ball gently roll down the hill. The
vP thereby formed merges with [T will], forming the T-bar will they ø +roll the
ball gently roll down the hill. The subject they raises to spec-TP, and the resulting
TP is merged with a null declarative C to form the CP (45) below (with arrows
showing movements which have taken place):
CP

(45)

TP

C
ø
PRN
They

T'
T
will

vP
v'

PRN
they
v
ø +roll

VP
DP
the ball

V'
ADV
gently

V'
V
roll

PP
down the hill

The different positions occupied by the adverb gently in (44) and (45) reflect a
subtle meaning difference between (43a) and (43b): (43a) means that the action
which initiated the rolling motion was gentle, whereas (43b) means that the rolling
motion itself was gentle.
A light-verb analysis also offers us an interesting account of adverb position
in sentences like:
(46) (a)
(b)



He had deliberately rolled the ball gently down the hill
He had gently rolled the ball deliberately down the hill

Let’s suppose that deliberately (by virtue of its meaning) can only be an adjunct to
a projection of an agentive verb (i.e. a verb whose subject has the thematic role of
agent). If we suppose (as earlier) that the light verb [v ø] is a causative verb with
an agent subject, the contrast in (46) can be accounted for straightforwardly: in
(46a) deliberately is contained within a vP headed by a null agentive causative

9.4 Split VPs: VP shells in ergative structures

light verb; but in (46b) it is contained within a VP headed by the non-agentive verb
roll. (The verb roll is a non-agentive predicate because its subject has the ␪-role
theme, not agent.) We can then say that adverbs like deliberately are adverbs
which adjoin to a v-bar headed by an agentive light verb, but not to V-bar.
This in turn might lead us to expect to find a corresponding class of adverbs
which can adjoin to V-bar but not v-bar. In this connection, consider the following
contrasts (adapted from Bowers 1993, p. 609):
(47) (a)
(b)



Mary jumped the horse perfectly over the last fence
Mary perfectly jumped the horse over the last fence

Given the assumptions made here, the derivation of (47a) would be parallel to
that in (45), while the derivation of (47b) would be parallel to that in (44). If
we assume that the adverb perfectly (in the relevant use) can function only as an
adjunct to a V-projection, the contrast between (47a) and (47b) can be accounted
for straightforwardly: in (47a), perfectly is adjoined to a V-bar, whereas in (47b)
it is merged with a v-bar (in violation of the requirement that it can only adjoin
to a V-projection).
As we have seen, the VP shell analysis outlined here provides an interesting
solution to the problems posed by three-place predicates which have two complements. However, the problems posed by verbs which take two complements arise
not only with transitive verbs which have intransitive counterparts (like those in
(32)–(37) above), but also with verbs such as those bold-printed in (48) below
(the complements of the verbs being bracketed):
(48) (a)
(b)
(c)
(d)

They will load [the truck] [with hay]
He gave [no explanation] [to his friends]
They took [everything] [from her]
Nobody can blame [you] [for the accident]

Verbs like those in (48) cannot be used intransitively, as we see from the ungrammaticality of sentences such as:
(49) (a)
(b)
(c)
(d)



The truck will load with hay
No explanation gave to his friends

Everything took from her

You can blame for the accident


However, it is interesting to note that in structures like (48) too we find that
adverbs belonging to the same class as gently can be positioned either before the
verb or between its two complements:
(50) (a)
(b)

They will carefully load the truck with hay
They will load the truck carefully with hay

This suggests that (in spite of the fact that the relevant verbs have no intransitive
counterpart) a shell analysis is appropriate for structures like (48) too. If so, a
sentence such as (48a) will have the structure shown in simplified form in (51)
below (with arrows showing movements which take place):

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9 split projections

CP

(51)

TP

C
ø
PRN
They

T'
vP

T
will

v'

PRN
they
v
ø +load

VP
V'

DP
the truck
V
load

PP
with hay

We can then say that the adverb carefully adjoins to v-bar in (50a), and to V-bar
in (50b). If we suppose that verbs like load are essentially affixal in nature (in the
sense that they must adjoin to a null causative light verb with an agent external
argument) we can account for the ungrammaticality of intransitive structures such
as (49a) ∗ The truck will load with hay.

9.5

VP shells in resultative, double-object and
object-control structures

The VP shell analysis outlined above can be extended from predicates
like load which have both nominal and prepositional complements to so-called
resultative predicates which have both nominal and adjectival complements –
i.e. to structures such as those below:
(52) (a)
(b)

The acid will turn the litmus-paper red
They may paint the house pink

In (52a), the verb turn originates in the head V position of VP, with the DP the
litmus-paper as its subject and the adjective red as its complement (precisely as
in The litmus-paper will turn red); turn then raises to adjoin to a strong causative
light verb ø heading vP; the subject of this light verb (the DP the acid) in turn
raises from spec-vP to spec-TP, and the resulting TP merges with a null declarative
complementiser – as shown informally in (53) below:
(53)

[CP [C ø [TP the acid [T will] [vP the acid [v ø +turn] [VP the litmus-paper [V turn] red]]]]

(For alternative analyses of resultative structures like (52), see Keyser and Roeper
1992; Carrier and Randall 1992; and Oya 2002.)

9.5 VP shells in resultative, double-object and object-control structures

We can extend the vP shell analysis still further, to take in double-object
structures. such as:
(54) (a)
(b)
(c)
(d)

They will get [the teacher] [a present]
Could you pass [me] [the salt]?
I showed [them] [my passport]
She gave [me] [a hat]

For example, we could suggest that (54a) has the structure (55) below (with arrows
indicating movements which take place in the course of the derivation):
CP

(55)

TP

C
ø

T'

PRN
They
T
will

vP
v'

PRN
they
v
ø +get

VP
V'

DP
the teacher
V
get

QP
a present

That is, get originates as the head V of VP (with the teacher as its subject and a
present as its complement, much as in The teacher will get a present), and then
raises up to adjoin to the strong causative light verb ø heading vP; the subject
they in turn originates in spec-vP (and has the thematic role of agent argument of
the null causative light verb ø ), and subsequently raises to spec-TP. (For a range
of alternative analyses of the double-object construction, see Larson 1988; 1990;
Johnson 1991; Bowers 1993; and Pesetsky 1995.)
The VP shell analysis outlined above also provides us with an interesting
solution to the problems posed by so-called object-control predicates. In this
connection, consider the syntax of the infinitive structure in (56) below:
(56)

What decided you to take syntax?

For reasons given below, decide functions as a three-place predicate in this use,
taking what as its subject, you as its object, and the clause to take syntax as a
further complement. If we suppose that the infinitive complement to take syntax
has a PRO subject (and is a CP headed by a null complementiser ø ), (56) will
have the skeletal structure (57) below (simplified e.g. by ignoring traces: the three
arguments of decide are bracketed):

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