Patterns of asymmetry in argument structure across languages

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This paper examines patterns of asymmetry between the arguments of multiargument predicates across languages. The asymmetries are visible in patterns of argument co-occurrence, of rule applicability, of formal marking and in linear ordering. The asymmetries have been captured in hierarchies of grammatical relations, hierarchies of morphological cases and verb agreement, hierarchies of thematic roles, and in linear precedence preferences derived from these hierarchies. The paper raises the question: why should there be such asymmetry hierarchies among the arguments of a predicate, with these correlating patterns? Some answers are proposed using the principles of efficiency and complexity developed in Hawkins (2004). The paper argues against some proposals that have been made in the literature, and takes note of phenomena that are still puzzling from this point of view.


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