The resultative phrases as markers of aspect in English and Polish


Marta Tryzna (Częstochowa)



In the present paper I examine the aspectual role of the resultative phrase understood here as an XP that denotes the state achieved by the referent of the NP it is predicated of as a result of the action denoted by the verb in the resultative construction.


I first attempt to test the validity of the Direct Object Restriction (DOR) (Levin and Rappaport-Hovav, 1995), an important constraint on the distribution of resultative phrases:


(1)   Resultative phrases may be predicated of immediately post-verbal NPs, but not of subjects or oblique complements.


The resultative constructions in  English conforming to the DOR include transitive verbs, passive verbs, unaccusative verbs and selected unergative verbs which take a “fake reflexive” object, co-referential with the subject (Simpson 1983):


a.       Ann licked her finger clean - transitive

b.      The pond froze solid - unaccusative

c.       Maria was shaken awake by the earthquake   - passive

d.      Dora shouted herself hoarse  -  unergative with a fake reflexive object


Another important constraint on the resultative phrases regards the  unergative verbs, and states that they cannot take resultative phrases in the absence of a fake reflexive object (*Dora shouted hoarse).


Polish verbs in the resultative construction manifest a greater variety as compared to their English counterparts:



a.             Max roztrzaskał szybę w drobny mak.  - transitive

‘Max smashed the window pane to pieces’

b.          Szyba roztrzaskała się w drobny mak. – ‘się’ unaccusative

‘The window pane was smashed to pieces’.

c.         Pies zamarzł na śmierć. – unaccusative proper

‘The dog froze to death’.

d.         Jan biegł do utraty tchu. – unergative w/o a fake reflexive object

‘John ran till he lost his breath’.


The analysis leads to an observation that the fake reflexive object constraint, formulated for English unergatives does not seem to apply in the case of Polish unergatives. There is no doubt that in (3d) the resultative phrase is predicated of the only NP available, that is of the NP in the subject position. Apart from violating the ‘fake reflexive object’ constraint, Polish unergatives seem to violate the DOR (1), since unergative verbs take one argument only, that is the external argument.


Even though a verb like biec is classified as an agentive unergative, its use with a resultative phrase do utraty tchu allows it to become a change-of-state unergative. In addition, since on this use biec does not require a perfective prefix (*dobiec / *przebiec do utraty tchu) (cf. Wierzbicka 1967, Kipka 1990), the resultative phrase functions here as a marker of aspect providing an endpoint after which the activity described by the verb is no longer taking place. Thus, the imperfective biec becomes a telic verb (cf Tenny 1987, Wechsler 2001).


Based on the evidence from Polish I postulate the extension of the DOR (1) and I question the validity of the fake reflexive object constraint. Furthermore, I wish to demonstrate that examples of the type biec do utraty tchu represent a unique case of inherently imperfective verbs in a perfective resultative construction.




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