What makes a good middle? The role of qualia in the interpretation and acceptability of middle expressions in English
By Kimihiro Yoshimura and John R. Taylor
What are middles?
a) The car drives smoothly.
b) The book doesn’t sell.
c) The problem with ripe fruit is that it bruises easily.
d) (of cheese) It slices, dices and grates.
The author’s central hypothesis and his goal
CENTRAL HYPOTHESIS: The authors of this article argue that middles(also known as activo-passive sentences, the patient-subject constructions,mediopassives, agentless actives) are expressions that foreground certain qualia of an entity with respect to its potential involvement in a process, simultaneously downgrading the responsibility of the (unmentioned) Agent. The subject referent has to be able to be construed as possessing properties which significantly faciliate, enable the unfolding of the process in question while at the same time the contribution of the Agent to the process is backgrounded.
GOAL: Characterization of the middle construction in English and identifying those factors which render some middles expressions acceptable while others are unacceptable.
Properties of middle expressions
That the construction has attracted so much interest is not surprising, given its unusual, even paradoxical properties. They are briefly reviewed here:
a) The verb is one which elsewhere in the language functions as a two-argument transitive, e.g. drive, sell, cut, slice,cook. In the middle construction these verbs are used not as transitives, but as one-argument intransitives.
b) The subject bears a non-Agent relation to the verbal process, typically that of Patient.
c) Middles normally require some kind of adjunct in order to be acceptable, although adjunct-less middles are also possible.
One important element in relation to middle expressions is the qualia structure. Four ‘qualia roles’ are proposed, which structure our basic...