Event causation and force dynamics in argument structure constructions

William Croft, University of New Mexico

The standard analysis of causation is that it is a relationship between events such that one event causes another event. A closely related concept, transmission of force between participants, also called force dynamics (Talmy 1988) represents “causal” relations between participants in an event denoted by a simple verb. I have argued that force dynamics is the most important determinant of argument realization within and across languages, although argument realization rules must also be extended to non-force-dynamic relations between participants (Croft 1991, 1998, 2012).

The force-dynamic analysis begs the question of how events expressed by simple verbs should be decomposed. In Verbs (Croft 2012), I propose that events denoted by single verbs should be decomposed such that each participant has its own subevent, that is, the subevents should be thought of as what each participant does/undergoes in the event, and that a subevent causes another subevent to occur. The subevents are themselves analyzed using a phasal model of verbal aspect, that is, how the (sub)events unfold over time.

This model of event decomposition unites the traditional model of causation as a relationship between events and the force-dynamic model of causal interactions among participants. In this talk, I use this model to address an issue in event structure representation and argument realization, namely the use of event nominals as arguments of verbs. It appears that event nominals name the subevents of participants, and that the same argument realization rules for ordinary participants (persons and things) also hold for event nominals as arguments.


Croft, William. 1991. Syntactic categories and grammatical relations: The cognitive organization of information. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Croft, William. 1998. Event structure in argument linking. The projection of arguments: lexical and compositional factors, ed. Miriam Butt and Wilhelm Geuder, 1-43. Stanford: Center for the Study of Language and Information.

Croft, William. 2012. Verbs: aspect and causal structure. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Talmy, Leonard. 1988. Force dynamics in language and cognition. Cognitive Science 12.49-100.