Diathesis Shift in Prefixal Verb Derivation in CSR

Joan Chevalier, University of California, Los Angeles

This paper presents some results of my research on diathesis shift in perfective verbs derived by prefixation in Contemporary Standard Russian, investigating the interrelationship between syntactic and semantic shifts in verb derivation. To my knowledge no in-depth study of diathesis shift has been done of prefixal verbs in CSR.

My inquiry is limited to non-reflexive bivalent prefixed verbs with o(b)- , ot-, and pro-. O(b)- and pro- were selected because they are the most productive prefixes in deriving bivalent verbs from intransitive bases. Ot was included because, even though it produces few cases of valency increase, it does derive finitive Aktionsarten and I am interested in the role of activity verbs in the derivation of bivalent Aktionsarten.

In this study verbal prefixes are examined as lexical quantifiers. Applying Partee's (1990, 1995) definition of lexical quantification, I define verbal prefixes as lexical derivational operators which, when they are attached to a verb at the lexical level, potentially produce morphological, syntactic, and semantic effects on the argument structure of the predicate. The goal of this paper is to identify and classify diathesis shifts occurring with these three prefixes, and to establish some of the factors at work in specific types of shifts.

Diathesis shift occurring in verbs derived with these prefixes can be divided into two types: verbs displaying valency increase with prefixation, i.e., intransitive bases producing bivalent verbs, and transitive base verbs that exhibit object conversion with prefixation. By examining the argument structure of bivalent verbs and applying syntactic tests for objecthood such as pronominalization and passivization, it is possible to classify bivalent verbs derived with intransitive bases along a continuum from strongly to weakly transitive (see 1a and 1b below.) The second type of diathesis shift I will discuss, object conversion, is characterized by a change in verbal argument structure in transitive verbs whereby an NP accusative case direct object argument referring to theme is replaced by an obligatory NP argument referring to goal (2a.)

(1a) ob"ezdit' loshad' 'to break in a horse'

(1b) oblazit' ves' les 'to climb all around the forest'

(2a) obveshat' steny kartinami 'to cover [by hanging] the walls with pictures'

There are a number of key factors at work in diathesis shift, the most important of which are the semantics of the prefix and the semantics of the base verb. The productivity of activity base verbs in deriving intransitive Aktionsarten has been addressed by many aspectologists including Avilova (1976), Ku&chackek;era (1983), and Durst-Andersen (1992). My data substantiates the productivity of activity verbs in deriving Aktionsarten with certain prefixes, but it reveals notable exceptions which need to be accounted for. My data also suggests that verb semantics plays an important role in object conversion. This type of shift is produced with a narrow semantic range of verbs.

My data suggests some additional factors at work in diathesis shift. A high percentage of strongly transitive verbs derived from intransitive bases with o(b)- , ot-, and pro- are marked as conversational or dialectal, suggesting that stylistics may play a role in this type of derivation. I argue that in some cases the NP object, in combination with a specific derived verb, forms a fixed phrase or "construction" as defined by Jackendoff (1997).