Linguistics and English Language

Meaning and grammar seminar

Speaker: John Beavers (University of Texas at Austin)

Title: States and Changes-of-State: A Cross-Linguistic Study of The Roots of Verbal Meaning

Abstract: A central question in the study of verbal meaning is what the basic component's of a verb's meaning are and how they compose together into more complex meanings in ways that make predictions about possible and impossible verbs. Event structural theories have arguably been the dominant approach to the study of verbal meaning over the last 50 years. On such approaches a verb's meaning is assumed to decompose into an event template capturing the verb's broad temporal and causal contours that groups verbs into semantically unified classes, and an idiosyncratic semantic root naming specific actions and states for a given verb within a class. A common assumption is that there is a division of labor in the grammatical properties of templates vs. roots: event templates largely determine the verb's grammatical properties (e.g. its argument structure and derivational morphology) while the root mainly just figures into its idiosyncratic form. Many event structural theories also assume a similar bifurcation in the meanings contributed by roots and templates (Arad 2005, Embick 2009): broad eventive lexical entailments are only introduced by templates, never roots. Since event templates are the primary semantic correlates of a verb's grammatical properties, semantic bifurcation makes strong predictions about the correlation of a verb's broad temporal and causal semantics to its syntax and morphology.

In this talk I argue against semantic bifurcation in verbal meanings, focusing on the presence or absence of entailments of change --- an uncontroversially templatic entailment ---- in two classes of roots: those that in English underlie Levin's (1993) deadjectival change-of-state verbs ("red" roots) and those that underlie her non-deadjectival change-of-state verbs ("crack" roots). A broad-scale typological study of the morphological properties of roots with these meanings reveals that "red" roots tend to have unmarked stative forms and marked verbal forms, while "crack" roots have the opposite patterns. Semantic studies of several languages confirm that the states described by "crack"-type roots are not dissociable from an inference of change-of-state while the states described by "red" type roots are. I thus suggest that "crack"-type roots entail change independent of the template, contra bifurcation, and that this figures into the morphological properties of the adjectival and verbal forms of these roots. This blunts the strong syntax/semantics correlations predicted by bifurcation, though I show that event structural approaches still make prediction about possible and impossible verbs even giving up on this assumption. I conclude by outlining a broader typology of the event structural meanings that may be found in verbal roots, and discuss the functional motivations that explain why an otherwise reasonable principle of lexical organization like bifurcation may see exceptions of the sort discussed here.


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Apr 16 2018 -

Meaning and grammar seminar

2018-04-16: States and Changes-of-State: A Cross-Linguistic Study of The Roots of Verbal Meaning

Room G.01, 16-22 George Square, Edinbrugh, EH8 9LD