The Malay verbal prefix meN- and the unergative/unaccusative distinction

Hooi Ling Soh, Hiroki Nomoto

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11 Scopus citations


The verbal prefix meN- in Malay is known to block DP movement. The existing analyses of this phenomenon focus on the blocking effect of meN- in transitive sentences but have not paid attention to whether such an effect holds in intransitive sentences. In this paper, we examine the blocking effect of meN- in intransitive sentences and show that, surprisingly, meN- does not appear to block DP movement in sentences that are usually considered unaccusative. We propose that no blocking effect is found in intransitive sentences because all intransitive meN- sentences are unergative. We present a hypothesis of the relation between verb meaning and sentence structure that accounts for meN-'s effect on verb syntax, making use of the notion of telicity and the distinction between "internal" and "external" causation. Our analysis implies that both lexical specification and structural determination are involved in determining the unergative/unaccusative distinction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)77-106
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of East Asian Linguistics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements The current research is supported by a Grant-in-Aid from the Graduate School, University of Minnesota, awarded to Hooi Ling Soh. Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the 2009 Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America (LSA), San Francisco, CA (January 2009) and the 13th International Symposium on Malay/Indonesian Linguistics, Lombok, Indonesia (June 2009). We thank the audience at the meetings for comments. Part of this work was conducted in the School of Malay Languages, Literature and Culture Studies, the National University of Malaysia (UKM), which we thank for supporting the research presented here. We are grateful to the two anonymous JEAL reviewers for helpful comments. All errors are ours.


  • "Internal" and "external" causation
  • Argument realization
  • Blocking effects
  • Malay verbal prefix meN-
  • Telicity
  • Unergative and unaccusative distinction


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