The Korean I-Suffix:
A Functional Approach


Mihyun Baek




This dissertation treats a problem presented by Korean syntax. The suffix {-i}, realized variously as -i, -hi, -li, -ki, may be used to express (among others) prototypical passives, middle voice, and causatives. I attempt to provide an answer to the question 'How are these uses connected?'

The semantic/conceptual configuration of an event is projected as an asymmetrical relation between sentence initial and sentence middle positions. Sentence initial position is assigned a special semantic property, which I call EMPOWEREDNESS. The requirements of EMPOWEREDNESS can be met by a less than optimal participant (i.e., creating a mismatch between the semantics of the position and its filler) as long as the I-suffix is present on the verb.

The I-suffix reduces the EMPOWEREDNESS of the sentence-initial position. This reduction alters the relation between sentence initial position and the participant filler and may achieve either 'passive' or 'causative' effects. The so-called 'passive' emerges as a cluster of related constructions, which signify the reduced EMPOWEREDNESS of the sentence initial position. In 'causative' constructions, I-suffix projects decreased EMPOWEREDNESS to sentence initial position by removing some semantic portion from the sentence initial position, transferring it to the second position.

Thus, the semantic character of the event ­ the role properties it projects upon the sentence initial participant ­ provides the matrix for the I-suffix. The effect of the I-suffix varies widely in different events, even while the suffix accomplishes a common function across all these environments.