Deriving Hybrid Verbal Categories: Evidence from the Comparison of Lithuanian and Russian

Leonard Babby, Princeton University

Many languages of the world have hybrid verbal categories, i.e. complex syntactic cate­gories that combine the properties of verbs and other, non-verbal categories; e.g., verb + adjective > participle, verb + noun > English gerund, etc. The purpose of this paper is to propose an explicit theory of hybrid verbal categories based on how the same hybrid category is realized in Lithuanian and Russian.

The empirical observation on which this theory is based is the following: the verbal and nonverbal properties remain segregated in the composite hybrid category, with the verbal properties being “internal (lower)” and the nonverbal categories appearing “external (higher)”. For example, in the case of participles, the complex hybrid category ‘participle’ is internally verbal (e.g., if the verb stem takes an accusative direct object, so does the corresponding participle) and externally an adjective, i.e., the verbal part is encapsulated in an adjectival projection (e.g., the participle has an adjectival-forming suffix plus the inflectional morphology of the whole is adjectival).

Recent generative theory provides us with precisely the formalism we need to capture the putative internal ~ external structure of hybrid categories: the verb stem V projects a VP, which has a maximum of two argument positions; this VP is the ‘com­plement’ of a functional projection, which is canonically referred to as “small v”, which pro­jects a vP. V’s ‘external argument’ (i.e., subject) is merged in spec-vP. In the Slavic and Baltic languages v is typically a ‘derivational’ suffix, which determines the syntactic category of the whole. This can be represented in (1), where NPi is the external argument and NPj and NPk are the VP-internal arguments. If v = af(fix), a hybrid verbal category can be represented in (2).


(1)     [vP NPi [v’ v  [VP NPj [V’ V NPk]]]] 

(2)     [afP NPi [af’ af  [VP NPj [V’ V NPk]]]]


If af is an adjective-forming suffix, then (2) represents a ‘participle’, where the verbal component is internal (low) whereas the adjectival component is the head of the composite category and external (high). Since affixes cannot be free-standing, V raises and “incorporates” with af, which produces the SVO word order characteristic of the Slavic and Baltic languages:


(3)     [afP NPi [af’ V+af  [VP NPj [V’ t NPk]]]]


So far the derivation of participles is the same for Russian and Lithuanian. But the formal­ism I have proposed to account for hybrid verbal categories enables us to represent the kind of differences we observe. The Russian participle-forming af also deletes V’s external NP, leaving an unlinked external theta role i, which predicts that participles in Russian cannot be main predicates; cf. (4). But the participle-forming af in Lithuanian does not delete V’s external NP, which means that (certain) participles in Lithuanian are small clauses with their own subject, which can serve as main predicates (cf. English: He was reading the book); cf. (3).


(4)     [afPi  [af’ V+af  [VP NPj [V’ t NPk]]]]      = Russian participle