On Experiencers and Minimality


This dissertation is concerned with experiencer arguments, and what they tell us about the grammar. There are two main types of experiencers I discuss: experiencers of psychological verbs and experiencers of raising constructions. I question the notion of ‘experiencers’ itself; and explore some possible accounts for the ‘psych-effects’. I argue that the ‘experiencer theta role’ is conceptually unnecessary and unsustained by syntactic evidence. ‘Experiencers’ can be reduced to different types of arguments. Taking Brazilian Portuguese as my main case study, I claim that languages may grammaticalize psychological predicates and their arguments in different ways. These verb classes exist in languages independently, and the psych-verbs behavior can be explained by the argument structure of the verbal class they belong to. I further discuss experiencers in raising structures, and the defective intervention effects triggered by different types of experiencers (e.g., DPs, PPs, clitics, traces) in a variety of languages. I show that defective intervention is mostly predictable across languages, and there’s not much variation regarding its effects. Moreover, I argue that defective intervention can be captured by a notion of minimality that requires interveners to be syntactic objects and not syntactic occurrences (a chain, and not a copy/trace). The main observation is that once a chain is no longer in the c-command domain of a probe, defective intervention is obviated, i.e., it doesn’t apply. I propose a revised version of the Minimal Link Condition (1995), in which only syntactic objects may intervene in syntactic relations, and not copies. This view of minimality can explain the core cases of defective intervention crosslinguistically.