Monday, May 10, 2010

Resultatives: Exceptions to the Direct Object Restriction

Wechsler (2005) claims that the direct object restriction on resultative secondary predicates is not real, and that resultatives can be predicated of deep subjects if the conditions are right. His claimed counterexamples include unergative verbs of motion like the following:

(1) She danced/swam free of her captors. (from Levin and Rappaport-Hovav 1995, p. 186)
(2) However, if fire is an immediate danger, you must jump clear of the vehicle. (State of Illinois, Rules of the Road; cited in Levin and Rappaport-Hovav 1995, p. 186)
(3) The driver and the fireman had jumped clear before the crash. (Thomas the Tank Engine; Wechsler 2005 ex. 33c)

Resultatives can also be predicated of subjects of transitives, according to Wechsler:

(4) The wise men followed the star out of Bethlehem. (Wechsler 2005, ex. 34a)
(5) The sailors managed to catch a breeze and ride it clear of the rocks. (Wechsler 2005, ex. 34b)
(6) He followed Lassie free of his captors. (Wechsler 2005, ex. 34c)

These examples are very suspicious, however. First, example (4) is simply a directional PP: it can be replaced with any such PP (through the pass, under the archway). Second, the only adjectives that can be used like this are free and clear, and they can be used adverbially with a meaning that is clearly not resultative:

(7) Stand clear of the moving doors. (subject does not become clear as a result of standing)

Other adjectives that generally make good resultatives (as in example 8) cannot be used with these verbs:

(8) She wiped the table clean/dry.
(9)a. *The sailors rode the breeze dry.
(9)b. *The sailors jumped clean/dry.

(And note that clean and dry are closed-scale adjectives, so they should be fine as resultatives modifying selected arguments of the verb, according to Wechsler. See more below on closed- vs. open-scale adjectives.)

So, an alternative explanation for all of Wechsler's putative counterexamples to the direct object restriction is that they are directionals, basically like a PP. That is, free and clear can be used like a PP as directional modifiers. As such, they modify the main predicate: verbs of motion regularly allow specification of starting points, paths, and end points. But these are not resultatives at all, which are secondary predicates and not modifiers of the main predicate.

Evidence that this is correct comes from conjunction possibilities. Free and clear can be conjoined with directional PPs with these verbs:

(10) They jumped clear of the vehicle and through the hoop.
(11) She danced free of her captors and into the next room.
(12) They rode the waves clear of the rocks and onto the beach.

This is not possible with APs that are clearly resultatives, even when the PP by itself is fine with the verb:

(13) She pounded the metal through the hoop.
(14) She pounded the metal flat.
(15)*She pounded the metal flat and through the hoop.

A second piece of evidence comes from pseudoclefting. Wechsler's free and clear examples allow pseudoclefts with where, like directional PPs, but true resultatives do not:

(16) Free of her captors is where she danced (to).
(17) Clear of the rocks is where they rode the waves (to).
(18)*Flat is where they pounded the metal (to).
(19)*Clean is where they wiped the table (to).

A third piece of evidence comes from co-occurrence with starting point and path PPs. Endpoints regularly occur with both of these:

(20) The sailors rode the breeze off the rocks, along the shore, and out into the open sea.

So do clear and free, again acting like directional PPs:

(21) The sailors rode the breeze through the narrow gap and clear of the rocks.
(22) She danced out of her captor's arms and free of their grasp.

But true resultatives do not:

(23) I kicked the box out the door, down the hall, and into the trash.
(24) I kicked the box to pieces.
(25) I kicked the box (*to pieces) out the door (*to pieces) and down the hall (*to pieces).
(26) I danced myself dry (*from soaking wet).
(27) I laughed myself silly (*from perfectly lucid).

I conclude, therefore, that Wechsler's putative counterexamples to the direct object restriction are not real counterexamples. They are not resultatives at all: they are directionals. When they specify the endpoint of a path, they might seem to have the semantics of a resultative, but they have very different grammatical properties from true resultative secondary predicates.

More generally, I conclude that there are no real counterexamples to the direct object restriction, which stands as a significant generalization about resultatives.

Moreover, Wechsler claims that examples like (28) are ungrammatical because resultatives that are predicated of arguments of the verb must be closed-scale adjectives. (29) is grammatical because there is no such requirement on non-selected NPs:

(28)*We danced tired.
(29) We danced ourselves tired.

This is not a good enough explanation for the contrast between (28) and (29), however. Sentences like (28) are still bad with closed-scale adjectives like dry and clean:

(30)*We danced dry/clean.

There is no way to predicate a true resultative of an underlying subject without a fake reflexive as in (29). Again, the direct object restriction stands.


Levin, Beth and Malka Rappaport-Hovav (1995), Unaccusativity: At the Syntax-Lexical Semantics Interface. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Wechsler, Stephen (2005), Resultatives Under the Event-Argument Homomorphism Model of Telicity. In Nomi Erteschik-Shir and Tova Rapoport (eds.), The Syntax of Aspect: Deriving Thematic and Aspectual Interpretation. Oxford University Press. pp. 255-273.

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