An anticausative verb is an
intransitive verbthat shows an event affecting its subject, while giving no semantic or syntactic indication of the cause of the event. The single argument of the anticausative verb (its subject) is a patient, that is, an experiencer. One can assume that there is a cause or an agent of causation, but the syntactic structure of the anticausative makes it unnatural or impossible to refer to it directly. Examples of anticausative verbs are "break", "sink", "move", etc.
Anticausative verbs are a subset of
unaccusative verbs. Though for the most parts both terms turn out to be synonymous, some unaccusative verbs are more obviously anticausative, while others ("fall", "die", etc.) are not; it depends on whether causation is defined as having to do with an animate volitional agent (does "falling" means "being accelerated down by gravity" or "being dropped/pushed down by someone"? Is "old age" a causation agent for "dying"?).
In English, many anticausatives are of the class of "alternating
ambitransitive verbs", where the alternation between transitive and intransitive forms produces a change of the position of the patient role (the transitive form has a patientive direct object, and this becomes the patientive subject in the intransitive). For example:
*"He broke the window." → "The window broke."
*"Some pirates sank the ship." → "The ship sank."
Passive voiceis not an anticausative construction. In passive voice, the agent of causation is demoted from its position as a core argument (the subject), but it can optionally be re-introduced using an adjunct (in English, commonly, a "by"-phrase). In the examples above, "The window was broken", "The ship was sunk" would clearly indicate causation, though without making it explicit.
Romance languages, many anticausative verbs are formed through a "pseudo-reflexive" construction, using a clitic pronoun(which is identical to the non-emphatic reflexive pronoun) applied on a transitive verb. For example (in Spanish, using the clitic "se"):
*"El vidrio se quebró." "The glass shattered."
*"Se está hundiendo el barco." "The boat is sinking."
Another example in French:
*"Les poissons se pêchaient et se vendaient". "Fish were being fished and sold."
Slavic languages, the use is essentially the same as in the Romance languages. For example (in Croatian, using "se"):
*"Staklo se razbilo." "The glass shattered."
External links and references
* [http://assets.cambridge.org/052166/0394/sample/0521660394wsc00.pdf Changing valency: Case studies in transitivity] (edited by R. M. W. Dixon & A. Y. Aikhenvald, Research Centre for Linguistic Typology, Le Trobe University, Melbourne)
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