Coding causal-noncausal verb alternations: A form-frequency correspondence explanation

Martin Haspelmath, Andreea Calude, Michael Spagnol, Heiko Narrog, Elif Bamyaci

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

We propose, and provide corpus-based support for, a usage-based explanation for cross-linguistic trends in the coding of causal-noncausal verb pairs, such as raise/rise, break (tr.)/break (intr.). While English mostly uses the same verb form both for the causal and the noncausal sense (labile coding), most languages have extra coding for the causal verb (causative coding) and/or for the noncausal verb (anticausative coding). Causative and anticausative coding is not randomly distributed (Haspelmath 1993): Some verb meanings, such as 'freeze', 'dry' and 'melt', tend to be coded as causatives, while others, such as 'break', 'open' and 'split', tend to be coded as anticausatives. We propose an explanation of these coding tendencies on the basis of the form-frequency correspondence principle, which is a general efficiency principle that is responsible for many grammatical asymmetries, ultimately grounded in predictability of frequently expressed meanings. In corpus data from seven languages, we find that verb pairs for which the noncausal member is more frequent tend to be coded as anticausatives, while verb pairs for which the causal member is more frequent tend to be coded as causatives. Our approach implies that linguists should not rely on form-meaning parallelism when trying to explain cross-linguistic or language-particular patterns in this domain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)587-625
Number of pages39
JournalJournal of Linguistics
Volume50
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2014 Nov 12

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Philosophy
  • Linguistics and Language

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