The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

ESSL/LAcqLab 10/5 - Emma Nguyen + William Snyder (UConn)

Speaker: Emma Nguyen (UConn) & William Snyder (UConn)
Title: It’s hard to coerce: a unified account of Raising-Past-Experiencers and Passives in Child English
Date/Time: Thursday, October 5, 5-6PM
Location: 32-D831

Snyder & Hyams (2015) adopt an idea from Gehrke & Grillo (2009) to account for children’s delay of non-actional passives: the problem is children’s inability to perform “semantic coercion” that non-actional verbs require before passivization. Orfitelli (2012) finds a tight correspondence between any given child’s ability to comprehend some non-actional passives and the same child’s ability to comprehend raising-past-experiencers like “John seems to Mary to be nice”. Yet, it is unclear how the idea of semantic coercion can extend to raising-past-experiencers.

Pinker (1989) argues the “core” of the English passive is the verb’s dyad of Agent-Patient theta-roles, with counterparts in other fields, like Perceiver-Perceptum. We propose that the locus of development is the ability to coerce a theta-role like Perceiver/Possessor into Agent. If a similar type of semantic coercion is necessary for raising-past-experiencers, children are delayed with both raising-past-experiencers and non-actional passives because they are late to master semantic coercion.