Changes in argument structure: The case of Dutch vernieuwen

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English is often contrasted with German and Dutch when it comes to the semantic roles that the subject can express (Hawkins 1986; Los & Dreschler 2012). Specifically, English seems to have more middles (She photographs well) and allows for unusual inanimate subjects (The cottage sleeps four). However, it seems that the semantics of the grammatical subject in Dutch are also changing, as witnessed by recent examples from websites and advertisements, such as Uw fietsenstalling verbetert and Presikhaaf vernieuwt. Although these sentences do not have the adverb that is typical of middles in Dutch (Broekhuis, Corver & Vos 2015:455ff.), they meet several other requirements for middle formation. In this paper, I analyse examples with one such verb, vernieuwen, and identify two different types of intransitive uses for this predominantly transitive verb. I argue that ambiguity, analogy and genre all play an important role in this change in argument structure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-129
Number of pages15
JournalLinguistics in the Netherlands
Issue number1
Early online date5 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019


  • Analogy
  • Middles
  • Semantic roles
  • Subject
  • Syntactic change


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