According to the Unaccusative Hypothesis, unaccusative subjects are base-generated in object position and move to subject position. We examined this hypothesis using the cross-modal lexical priming technique, which tests whether and when an antecedent is reactivated during the online processing of a sentence. We compared sentences containing unergative verbs with sentences containing unaccusatives, both alternating and nonalternating, and found that subjects of unaccusatives reactivate after the verb, while subjects of unergatives do not. Alternating unaccusatives showed a mixed pattern of reactivation. The research directly supports the Unaccusative Hypothesis.

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Author notes

This article is dedicated in loving memory of our dear friend and colleague Dave Swinney.

Thanks to Nicoleta Bateman for testing countless subjects in the Brain and Language Laboratory at the University of California, San Diego.

This research was supported by NIH-NIDCD grant DC000494 (Shapiro, Swinney) and by the Joint German-Israeli Research Program grant GR01791 (Friedmann).