Tuesday, February 6, 2024

"Binding" in short passives is logophoric

(This is an excerpt from my paper to be published in Glossa, "English middles and implicit arguments." I am excerpting it here because the data may otherwise go unnoticed, when they are quite important to the analysis of passives.)

Short passives in English appear to permit binding of an anaphor by the implicit logical external argument (e.g., Baker et al. 1989; Roberts 1987; Collins 2005):

(93) a. Some poems can be read aloud to oneself better than others can.
b. Melissa was delighted to find that some of her poems could be read aloud to herself quite well.
c. We were delighted to find that some of our poems could be read aloud to each other quite well.
d. Randi was delighted to find that the butter could be spread easily on herself after she had microwaved it.
e. To the students’ consternation, tickets to the school play were sold more easily to themselves than they were to others.
f. The winter swimmers were delighted to find that the goose fat could be rubbed easily onto themselves once it was warmed up.

One might conclude from this that the logical external argument of the short passive is syntactically represented. This conclusion would be too hasty. Anaphors can sometimes be used logophorically, meaning that they can take as an antecedent an entity that does not locally c- command them and may not even be present in the syntax (Pollard and Sag 1992; Reinhart and Reuland 1993). Charnavel and Sportiche (2016) offer a way to rule out this possibility: using inanimate anaphors. Anaphors used logophorically can only take sentient entities as their antecedents. Inanimate anaphors require a local c-commanding antecedent and do not permit a logophoric use. When we use inanimate anaphors in short passives, we find that they are unacceptable:

(94) a. * The moon’s gravitational pull isn’t strong enough for asteroids to be attracted to itself very easily.
(cf. The moon attracts asteroids to itself quite frequently.)
b. * This machine’s programming has the result that oil is spread on itself once a day. (cf. This machine spreads oil on itself once a day.)
c. * This automatic thresher’s design allows spare blades to be stored inside itself. (cf. This automatic thresher stores spare blades inside itself.)
d. * This machine is designed so that X-rays are constantly shot at itself. (cf. This machine constantly shoots X-rays at itself.)

I take this to indicate that putative examples of binding by the missing external argument of a passive are not actual examples of binding. The missing external argument of a passive is not capable of binding an anaphor. An anaphor can be acceptable in the passive, but when it is, it is being used logophorically.

Further strengthening this conclusion, unaccusative examples that are similar to the examples of the passive in (93) also permit an anaphor. Unaccusatives do not have an external argument, so they must involve anaphors being used logophorically:

(95) a. Some tones sound better to oneself than they do to others.
b. Randi was delighted to find the butter spreading out all over herself without her needing to do anything.
c. To the hikers’ consternation, snow seemed to fall only onto themselves and not onto the bushes alongside the path.
d. The winter swimmers were delighted to find that the goose fat melted easily onto themselves once it was warmed up.

I conclude that apparent binding by the logical external argument of a short passive is not binding at all, it involves a logophoric use of an anaphor. It appears that, when there is no logical external argument in the syntax (in short passives, in unaccusatives, and in middles---see the paper), it is possible for any anaphor in the verb phrase to be interpreted logophorically rather than as a syntactic anaphor. Why this would be the case is not entirely clear.

(See the paper for complete references, and an analysis of middles and passives and why they differ with regard to depictive secondary predicates and control.)