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Zooming in on agentivity: Experimental studies of DO-clefts in German

  • Despite the importance of the agent role for language grammar and processing, its definition and features are still controversially discussed in the literature on semantic roles. Moreover, diagnostic tests to dissociate agentive from non-agentive roles are typically applied with qualitative introspection data. We investigated whether quantitative acceptability ratings obtained with a well-established agentivity test, the DO-cleft, provide evidence for the feature-based prototype account of (Dowty, David R. 1991. Thematic protoroles and argument selction. Language 67(3). 547-619) postulating that agentivity increases with the number of agentive features that a role subsumes. We used four different intransitive verb classes in German and collected acceptability judgements from non-expert native speakers of German. Our results show that sentence acceptability increases linearly with the number of agentive features and, hence, agentivity. Moreover, our findings confirm that sentience belongs to the group of proto-agent features. In summary, this suggests that a multidimensional account including a specific mechanism for role prototypicality (feature accumulation) successfully captures gradient acceptability clines. Quantitative acceptability estimates are a meaningful addition to linguistic theorizing.

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Author:Franziska KretzschmarGND, Ingmar BrilmayerGND
Parent Title (English):Linguistics Vanguard
Publisher:De Gruyter
Place of publication:Berlin
Document Type:Article
Year of first Publication:2020
Date of Publication (online):2021/01/13
Tag:acceptability judgements; agent; experiencer; role decomposition; role prototypicality; semantic roles; sentience
GND Keyword:Akzeptabilität; Deutsch; Empfindung; Experimentelle Psychologie; Intransitives Verb; Prototyp <Linguistik>; Psycholinguistik; Thematische Relation
First Page:1
Last Page:13
Dieser Beitrag ist mit Zustimmung des Rechteinhabers aufgrund einer (DFG geförderten) Allianz- bzw. Nationallizenz frei zugänglich.

This publication is with permission of the rights owner freely accessible due to an Alliance licence and a national licence (funded by the DFG, German Research Foundation) respectively.
DDC classes:400 Sprache / 400 Sprache, Linguistik
Open Access?:ja
Linguistics-Classification:Psycholinguistik / Kognitive Linguistik
Program areas:G1: Beschreibung und Erschließung Grammatischen Wissens
Licence (German):License LogoUrheberrechtlich geschützt