Events

In this talk I explore how the semantic feature of animacy can help guide children's learning of certain abstract predicates, and lead them to figure out the syntactic structures associated with these predicates. More specifically, I show that encountering an inanimate subject in a biclausal structure provides a cue that the subject is displaced with respect to its theta-marked position. In turn, this tells the learner that the main predicate is what I'll call a "displacing predicate"--one that fails to select an external argument. These types of predicates include raising-to-subject verbs (e.g. 'seem') and tough-adjectives (e.g. 'easy'). Some kind of sentence-level cue is needed to parse these structures (raising and tough constructions) because they are "opaque"--on the surface they are indistinguishable from control structures, whose subject is not displaced (cf. N. Chomsky 1965, C. Chomsky 1969).

I'll also suggest that this type of cue (inanimate subject = displaced subject) can extend to unaccusatives (so as to distinguish them from unergatives), but not to passives, even though passives also involve a displaced subject.