Andrew McInnerney (top, left) is shown on Zoom with his dissertation committee members: Professor Rick Lewis (top, center), Professor T. Daniel Seely (top, right), and (bottom row, from left): Associate Professor Ezra Keshet, Dr. Lisa Levinson, and Professor Acrisio Pires (dissertation chair).

Congratulations to Linguistics PhD candidate Andrew McInnerney, who successfully defended his dissertation on May 9. Committee chair is Acrisio Pires.

Dissertation title: “The Argument/Adjunct Distinction and the Structure of Prepositional Phrases.”


This dissertation examines the traditional evidence for the Argument/Adjunct Distinction (A/AD). I begin by drawing a distinction between the semantic sense of the A/AD and the syntactic sense of the A/AD. The semantic A/AD concerns lexical encoding of thematic information; arguments are taken to be semantically encoded in the lexical representation of predicates, while adjuncts are not. I argue instead that lexical encoding of thematic information is a property in its own right; the standard evidence does motivate an understanding of the A/AD in these terms. The syntactic A/AD has to do with the external syntax of constituents. I consider nine canonical syntactic diagnostics for argumenthood (e.g. omissibility, VP-anaphora, islandhood, etc.), using prepositional phrases in the verbal domain in English as a test case, and I find that these diagnostics do not provide good evidence for the syntactic A/AD. Instead, the properties identified by the canonical argumenthood diagnostics are independent of one another; they should not be taken to as properties of a single larger distinction.

After carefully examining the evidence for the A/AD, I consider the consequences of eliminating the distinction. I focus specifically on consequences for the syntax prepositional phrases, including (i) the configuration of PPs in the verbal domain, (ii) licensing of pronouns within PPs, and (iii) pseudopassives (p-passives). The A/AD has been argued to play an important role in each of these domains, and so if the distinction is to be eliminated, it is important to explore how analyses in these domains are affected. On the structure of VP-internal PPs, I explore the possibility that PPs could be attached as sisters to functional heads in the verbal domain, potentially forming multiple n-ary-branching layers. On pronoun-licensing in PP, I defend the hypothesis that PP is split into two layers, and I argue that the lower of the two layers is a phase; assuming that Condition B is sensitive to phase domains, this enables an account of a range of relevant data. Finally, on p-passives, I consider the conditions under which p-passivization is blocked, arguing that argumenthood is not a relevant factor.