This study investigates the English Way-construction, as defined in Construction Grammar terms, as a case study to explore agency attribution processes at the intersection of animacy and agentive properties of verbs, on the basis of the construction’s constraints previously described in literature – that the construction implies self-propelled, intentional movement and that the verb slot is restricted to unergative, agentive verbs. Corpus-based research is conducted to collect evidence of non-agentive verbs and inanimate subjects used in the construction and describe how they reconcile with the construction. The results provide a more accurate description of the way construction, showing that agency attribution processes define the construction’s usage beyond its single components and relate to more general cognitive processes. On the broader picture, this study shows that the conceptualization of agency attributed to inanimate entities has consequences in the way they are accounted responsibility and seen as blameworthy.
Agents’ actions and intentions can be prompted or hindered in multiple ways. Across languages, verbs that lexicalize the causative primitives of CAUSE, ENABLE or PREVENT (Wolff & Song 2003) can help us understand the nature of agency, precisely because they involve multiple participants which are sometimes seen as being in a position of influencing each other via different types of relations. In this paper, we focus on the role of authority, intended as an influence that affects the choices available to a free agent with respect to the actions in service of their goal. We show that, while many causative verbs seem to imply the type of force relation between the participants in their lexical meaning, the French causative verb laisser is underspecified: the type of influence exerted by the two participants in a laisser relation is determined by the syntactic structure of the causative construction.
Recent research on subjunctive obviation, i.e. the unavailability of de se reading in (mostly) subjunctive clauses holding in a number of languages, has pointed out that obviation may depend on semantic and pragmatic constraints involving attitude predicates and the propositional content of the attitude itself. In line with this approach, the article explores the hypothesis whereby subjunctive obviation is related to the epistemic access to a propositional content. In particular I will discuss subjunctive obviation in Italian focusing on sentences involving doxastic attitude predicates in the first person. I will propose that subjunctive obviation is caused by a semantic clash arising when (i) the attitude predicate presupposes that the information conveyed in the embedded clause is epistemically accessed in an indirect way (by guessing, inferring, etc.) and (ii) the propositional content expressed in the embedded clause can only be accessed via introspection (i.e., it is object of “self-knowledge”, as generally understood in the field of philosophy of language). This analysis accounts for the basic facts involving obviation in doxastic environments as well as novel data previously not reviewed; moreover, it suggests that the phenomenon is not limited to subjunctive clauses, but can also occur in indicative clauses, as long as a semantic clash arises between the attitude predicate semantics and the embedded clause semantics. While empirically limited to doxastic predicates, the present study may provide the founding for further analysis on obviation in other syntactic environments.
Some languages have special constructions which appear to encode unintentional causation. In previous research, two distinct ways of deriving this reading have been proposed: one that involves a circumstantial necessity modal and one that involves introducing a possessor onto a change of state event. While in the former unintentional causation boils down to an event being forced by circumstances, in the latter it is derived as an implicature in the absence of a canonical agent relation in syntax. In this paper, I investigate two morphosyntactically distinct constructions in Laz (South Caucasian) which both allow the unintentional causation reading. I show that these two constructions instantiate the proposed distinct semantic paths to unintentional causation, providing empirical evidence that the modal and the non-modal paths can co-exist in a grammar. The investigation also reveals that what enables the modal path in Laz is a circumstantial possibility modal, which exhibits force variability in the absence of its dual.