Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2016

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Davies, William D.

First Committee Member

Davison, Alice L.

Second Committee Member

Enfield, Nick J.

Third Committee Member

Kempchinsky, Paula

Fourth Committee Member

McMurray, Bob


This dissertation is an investigation of serial verb constructions in Lao (Tai-Kadai, SVO) and the events that they encode. Serial verb constructions (SVCs), structures where multiple verbs appear in a single clause, raise several important questions for syntactic theory. One issue is how the verbs are related; proposals involving coordination (Payne 1985), subordination (Collins 1997), and adjunction (Hale 1991; Muansuwan 2002) have all been made, while others have made a case for unorthodox double-headed structures (Baker & Stewart 2002; Baker 1989). Additionally, the argument sharing seen in SVCs is seemingly incompatible with proposed constraints on theta-role assignment, such as the Theta-Criterion (Chomsky 1981) or the Biuniqueness Condition (Bresnan 1980).

In this thesis I describe new data from the Lao language focusing on two subtypes of SVC that Stewart (1998) calls consequential SVCs (CSVCs) and resultative SVCs (RSVCs). I propose a generative analysis of these structures where an event head licenses a complex VP containing multiple verbs where the object is thematically related to the complex VP rather than the individual predicates.

Evidence for the event head comes from a modified version of the explicit segmentation task (Zacks et al. 2001). During the experiment, participants were instructed to divide video clips into events. When participants saw a CSVC before the video, they divided the action sequence depicted by the CSVC into fewer events than when participants saw a coordinated construction before the video. These results suggest that seeing the SVC prompted the participants to group the target sequence of events in the videos together as a larger macro-event, supporting the claim that SVCs encode a single event (contra Foley 2010). These data also support the proposal that events are conceptualized at the clausal level, rather than at the verbal level, which is in line with proposals from Evans (2010), Jackendoff (1991), and Pustejovsky (1991).

Public Abstract

This thesis is an investigation of Serial Verb Constructions (SVCs), structures in which multiple verbs appear together in a single clause, in the Lao language. A word-by-word translation of a Lao SVC into English would be Joy made the food sold. Syntactic tests reveal that SVCs: are different from multi-clause constructions like Joy made the food and sold it, or, Joy made the food to sell it, they are part of a single verb phrase, and they share subjects and objects, all of which makes SVCs difficult to analyze in current syntactic theory. I propose that the events encoded by SVCs are the key to addressing the shortcomings of previous analyses. Many researchers have claimed that the multiple verbs in SVCs describe what is conceptualized as a single event in the minds of the speakers, but evidence for this has been unreliable. An experiment was designed where Lao speakers divided a video into events. When they saw an SVC before the video, they divided the video into fewer events than when they saw a similar coordinated construction. This suggests that the SVC prompted participants to view the actions as a single, complex event and that grammatical constructions can impact event segmentation. It also provides evidence for the syntactic analysis of SVCs proposed, which relies on events being a part of the syntactic structure of the clause.


event cognition, lao, serial verbs, syntax


xiii, 202 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 193-202).


Copyright © 2016 Douglas James Cole

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