The Locative Syntax of Experiencers

From Linguistic Inquiry Monographs

The Locative Syntax of Experiencers

By Idan Landau

A new account of the peculiar syntax of psychological verbs argues that experiencers are grammaticalized as locative phrases.





A new account of the peculiar syntax of psychological verbs argues that experiencers are grammaticalized as locative phrases.

Experiencers—grammatical participants that undergo a certain psychological change or are in such a state—are grammatically special. As objects (John scared Mary; loud music annoys me), experiencers display two peculiar clusters of nonobject properties across different languages: their syntax is often typical of oblique arguments and their semantic scope is typical of subjects. In The Locative Syntax of Experiencers, Idan Landau investigates this puzzling correlation and argues that experiencers are syntactically coded as (mental) locations. Drawing on results from a range of languages and theoretical frameworks, Landau examines the far-reaching repercussions of this simple claim. Landau shows that all experiencer objects are grammaticalized as locative phrases, introduced by a dative/locative preposition. “Bare” experiencer objects are in fact oblique, too, the preposition being null. This preposition accounts for the oblique psych(ological) properties, attested in case alternations, cliticization, resumption, restrictions on passive formation, and so on. As locatives, object experiencers may undergo locative inversion, giving rise to the common phenomenon of quirky experiencers. When covert, this inversion endows object experiencers with wide scope, attested in control, binding, and wh-quantifier interactions. Landau's synthesis thus provides a novel solution to some of the oldest puzzles in the generative study of psychological verbs. The Locative Syntax of Experiencers offers the most comprehensive description of the syntax of psychological verbs to date, documenting their special properties in more than twenty languages. Its basic theoretical claim is readily translatable into alternative frameworks. Existing accounts of psychological verbs either consider very few languages or fail to incorporate other theoretical frameworks; this study takes a broader perspective, informed by findings of four decades of research


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262013307 178 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


$30.00 X ISBN: 9780262513067 178 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


  • Landau takes the syntax of experiencers (nominative, accusative, and dative) by the horns, synthesizing the wealth of empirical and analytical discussions of this recalcitrant and multifaceted problem, unearthing many essential novel observations, and debunking several persistent myths about experiencer constructions along the way. The central idea of this monograph ties together in a theoretically simple and revealing way the range of seemingly disparate quirks of experiencer constructions that have dogged linguists for decades, and brings potentially far-reaching prospects for the syntax of locatives in general. A descriptively rich, thoroughly researched, commendably compact, and comprehensive page-turner.

    Marcel den Dikken

    Linguistics Program, CUNY Graduate Center