Sentience-based event structure: Evidence from blackfoot

Elizabeth Ritter

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


In Blackfoot, a Plains Algonquian language spoken in Alberta, Canada, and Montana, USA, sentience, rather than telicity, is a primary determinant of argument structure. Subjects of transitive verbs, non-core objects of transitive verbs (benefactives, malefactives, sources, etc.), and primary objects of ditransitive verbs are all subject to a strict sentience requirement. This chapter follows Ritter and Wiltschko (2015) in assuming that the strict sentience requirements on argument structure are part of the grammar (i.e. part of the “narrow syntax”) of Blackfoot, and formalizes sentience as a feature that is subject to selection, a feature-checking operation, much like AGREE. This proposal correctly predicts that (a) not only agents but also causers must be sentient in Blackfoot; (b) sentient objects (not bounded ones) serve as both initiators and delimiters of events; (c) like event types, nominal types are distinguished by sentience, rather than boundedness; and (d) eventiveness is correlated with sentience, rather than dynamicity.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationContrast and Representations in Syntax
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages39
ISBN (Electronic)9780198817925
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Blackfoot
  • animacy
  • argument structure
  • aspect
  • event structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences


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