Further contrastive observations

A comparison of the data for the English BPOC and the Dutch intensifying ditransitive is also revealing of the language-specificity and conventionality of each of these constructions. Of course, there are some commonalities, not just semantically (which is why they are investigated here together in the first place) but also syntactically: both constructions involve two complements, one of which is a direct object; in neither construction can this argument appear as the subject of a related passive construction (*my ass was worked off; *een ongeluk werd me gezocht ‘an accident was looked for to me’). There are also some crucial differences: the BPOC involves an inalienable body part - I’m leaving out of the discussion cases like laugh one’s socks/pants off - followed by the particle off or out, while the Dutch intensifying ditransitive involves a reflexive pronoun followed by a full NP. This difference in how the same notion (intensification) is expressed in the two languages allowed us to exclude the possibility that the English BPOC is merely pragmatically derived from the caused-motion construction: if it were, we would also have to find it in Dutch.

The tables presented in the preceding sections allow us to compare the constructions in more detail. We can see that only five of the top twenty most frequently used verbs in the BPOC find their direct translation equivalent among the top twenty most frequently used verbs in the Dutch intensifying ditransive: work/werken, laugh/lachen, run/lopen, fight/vechten and sweat/zweten. These are verbs whose semantics easily allows for intensification, but this can be said for many of the other verbs as well. Surprisingly, for three of the top five most frequently used Dutch verbs, there is not even an equivalent in Table 1, nor in fact in the entire data set: schrikken (‘be startled’), zoeken (‘look for’) and (zich) vervelen (‘be bored’). A likely reason for this is that the English equivalents lack the required syntactic structure: they are used with be or with a fixed preposition.

Note that the presence of a preposition does not appear to pose a problem in Dutch. Compare:

(13) a. ?*I’ve been looking my ass off for a solution.

b. Ik heb me een ongeluk gezocht naar een oplossing

I have me an accident searched to a solution

‘I’ve been looking everywhere for a solution.’

Apparently, the use of a prepositional complement in English hinders the use of intensifying complements (especially, I presume, the particle, which shares many similarities with PPs (cf. Cappelle 2004)).

In any case, a comparison of the two tables allows us to see that, despite some overlap, the two different languages appear to intensify different kinds of verbs in the two patterns investigated. Not all differences can be attributed to selection restrictions or voice of the verbs involved. In the entire Dutch dataset, no verbs of forceful air expulsion such as krijsen ‘shriek’, roepen ‘call, shout’ or schreeuwen ‘shout, scream’ are used, while the counterparts to these verbs are frequent in the English dataset and could in principle have been used in the Dutch intensifying ditransitive pattern. In short, this brief contrastive analysis again supports my claim that there is considerable conventionality in both patterns.

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