In this dissertation a methodology for identifying and analyzing serial verb constructions (SVCs) is developed, and its application is exemplified through an analysis of SVCs in Koro, an Oceanic language of Papua New Guinea. SVCs involve two main verbs that form a single predicate and share at least one of their arguments. In addition, they have shared values for tense, aspect, and mood, and they denote a single event. The unique syntactic and semantic properties of SVCs present a number of theoretical challenges, and thus they have invited great interest from syntacticians and typologists alike. But characterizing the nature of SVCs and making generalizations about the typology of serializing languages has proven difficult. There is still debate about both the surface properties of SVCs and their underlying syntactic structure. The current work addresses some of these issues by approaching serialization from two angles: the typological and the language-specific.
On the typological front, it refines the definition of `SVC' and develops a principled set of cross-linguistically applicable diagnostics. From the existing set of surface properties, four core characteristics are distilled: main verbhood, monoclausality, single eventhood, and argument sharing. A construction must have all of these properties in order to qualify as an SVC. Once these underlying semantic and syntactic properties of SVCs are identified, a detailed and explicit set of criteria is developed that allows these underlying properties to be tested in any language.
The latter part of the dissertation offers a case study in the use of these diagnostic criteria by applying them to multi-verb constructions in Koro. Testing these constructions against the definition of SVCs developed in the dissertation reveals that although there are numerous multi-verb constructions in Koro that appear to fulfill the surface criteria for SVCs, only one of these can be considered a true SVC. This construction has a VP-shell structure, in which V1 is a path or locative verb that takes V2 as its complement. The shared argument is the subject of V2, providing a counter-example to Baker's (1989) claim that SVCs obligatorily share an internal argument. Constructions that instead involve adjunction of V2 to V1 are shown through detailed semantic investigation to be disqualified as SVCs, because they do not exhibit the expected entailments. This is surprising because they superficially resemble proto-typical SVCs. The syntactic and semantic analysis of these constructions leads to the hypothesis that true SVCs must have a relation of complementation between the verbs, while adjoined or coordinated constructions cannot be considered SVCs.