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The Lexical Semantics of Verbs III

The Lexical Semantics of Verbs III

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Course LSA.

113P Beth Levin

Stanford University July 1-3, 2007

The Lexical Semantics of Verbs III: Semantic Determinants of Argument Realization


Background: How aspect has been said to figure in argument realization

Starting with Hopper & Thompson’s (1980) work on transitivity, aspectual notions have increasingly been included among semantic determinants of argument realization, even if different researchers cite different, though overlapping, aspectual notions, including measure, delimiter, incremental theme, telicity, and accomplishment. 1.1 The basic claim: Aspect is what matters

• “Aspect, or event structure, is that part of a verb’s meaning which is relevant for its interface with the syntax.” (Arad 1998:59) • Tenny (1987, 1994) proposes a strong and explicit role for aspect in argument realization. (1) T HE A SPECTUAL I NTERFACE H YPOTHESIS : The universal principles of mapping between thematic structure and syntactic argument structure are governed by aspectual properties. Constraints on the aspectual properties associated with direct internal arguments [=underlying objects], indirect internal arguments [=other arguments within VP], and external arguments [=underlying subjects] in syntactic structure constrain the kinds of event participants that can occupy these positions. Only the aspectual part of thematic structure is visible to the universal linking principles. (Tenny 1994:2) Phenomena supporting the claim that aspect matters


• Hopper & Thompson (1980) list “telicity” and “punctuality” as transitivity components. • Aspectual notions, particularly telicity, are implicated in unaccusative diagnostics (e.g., Centineo 1986; Dowty 1991; Van Valin 1990; Zaenen 1993), passive nominals (e.g., Fellbaum 1987; Tenny 1987, 1994), middle formation (e.g., Tenny 1987, 1994). • van Hout (1996) proposes that many argument realization alternations are instances of event type-shifting—i.e., aspectual reclassification. — Alternations between direct object and oblique realizations reflect alternations between telic and atelic uses of verbs (conative and accusative/partitive alternations); — Alternate choices of direct object reflect alternate choices of argument which determines a sentence’s telicity, i.e., incremental theme or measure (locative alternation). (2) (3) Conative alternation: Taylor ate the apricot/Taylor ate at the apricot. Locative alternation: Sam loaded the hay on the truck/loaded the truck with hay. 1

. McClure 1993. T HE CRUCIAL PROPERTY: The patient—the entity undergoing the change of state—MUST be realized and CAN ONLY be realized as a direct object.g. a range of studies propose that direct object position is tied to a range of related aspectual notions.. Travis 1991. • A line of recent work even syntacticizes event structure (e. • More generally. Ritter & Rosen 1998.. Sanz 1999. in turn. 1. determine the most likely object.g.. See Rosen (1999) for discussion. 1977. T HE BOTTOM LINE : Verbs lexicalizing a change of state show uniform argument realization options. 2001. subject of result (Borer 1998).g. T HE NEXT STEP : Assessing the merits of claims that aspectual notions are determinants of argument realization and show they are problematic. van Hout 1996). 2005. Arad 1998) associate telicity with accusative case.3 Proposals about how aspect matters • Verkuyl (1993) proposes a compositionality principle. COS verbs show a distinct argument realization pattern (Fillmore 1970. Ritter & Rosen 1998. Ackerman & Moore 1999.. but do not show uniform aspectual properties. 1994). incremental theme (Rothstein 2000). The INCREMENTAL THEME is the element involved in defining a homomorphism from properties of an argument to properties of the event it participates in. citing accusative/partitive alternations associated with telicity shifts in Finnish and Estonian. 2 . which has the effect of requiring objects to contribute to bounding an event. break) or either telic or atelic (e. as well as unaccusative behavior. the Plus Principle. Van Hout 1996). Borer 1998. motivating syntactic structure based on aspectual considerations: the inclusion of explicit Aspect or Event Phrases among functional realizations (e.. or subject of quantity (Borer 2005). dim). it holds whether they are necessarily telic (e. including telicity (Ritter & Rosen 1998.• Some studies (e. measure (Tenny 1992. 2 Uniformity in argument realization is not aspectual uniformity: Evidence from change of state verbs The types of phenomena reviewed in section 1 have prompted theories of argument realization that incorporate the assumption that argument realization is aspectually driven. Levin 1993). Slabakova 1998. as a result. Borer 1998. basically atelic transitive verbs such as push must be analyzed as not being true transitives. 2001. 1999) or the association of AgrO with delimitation or telicity (e.g. as well as the use in some languages of oblique rather than accusative case for the second argument of atelic verbs.g. Ramchand 1997. these. Slabakova 1997). A SOURCE OF EVIDENCE REGARDING THE VALIDITY OF THIS ASSUMPTION: The argument realization properties of change of state (COS) verbs. • Dowty (1991) includes “incremental theme” among his Proto-Patient entailments. ErteschikShir & Rapoport 1997. especially when compared with those of aspectually-related verbs.g. Arad 1998.

nor with direct objects that are not patients—e. in nonsubcategorized NP resultatives or with out-prefixation. b. (13) a. ∗ The two-year old outbroke the three-year old. 3 . (7) (8) (9) (10) a. (fence breaks. widen P UNCTUAL COS VERBS: break.g. a.. widen C ONCLUSION : COS verbs share a constrained set of argument realization possibilities. singular object. Kelly broke my arm ∗ Kelly broke me on my arm. shatter D URATIVE COS VERBS: cool. N ECESSARILY TELIC COS VERBS: break. a. darken. nor do these verbs participate in object alternations. dim. b. b. traditional lexical aspectual classification alone does not determine argument realization. When they take a definite. Sam broke the stick against the fence. Alex broke the vase ∗ Alex broke at the vase. but aren’t uniform aspectually. ripen. (11) (12) a. explode. ∗ The stagehand outdimmed the director. a. Sam hit a stick against the fence. change of location) often associated with direct objecthood.• The patient must be realized: COS verbs aren’t found with unspecified objects. as well as telic and either punctual or durative.g. even when having an entailment (e. b. (4) (5) (6) ∗ Pat broke/dimmed. (stick breaks. b. melt. Kelly hit me on the arm) Sam broke the fence with the stick. Therefore. (cf. (not a paraphrase of (a)) • No other argument can be direct object. a. crack. a. b. explode. a. shatter ATELIC / TELIC COS VERBS: cool. (Fillmore 1977:75) A SPECTUAL CHARACTERISTICS OF COS VERBS : COS verbs lack a uniform aspectual characterization in terms of the traditional aspectual notions of telicity and punctuality. ∗ My kids broke me into the poorhouse. Sam dimmed the lights ∗ Sam dimmed at/from the lights. they can be necessarily telic or atelic. Sam broke the fence with the stick. • The patient must be realized as the direct object: It cannot be realized as an oblique.. stick moves) Sam hit the fence with a stick. dry. darken. ∗ The stagehand dimmed the scene dark. b. b. flatten. stick moves) Sam broke the stick against the fence. b.

build. P ROBLEMS WITH THE INCREMENTAL THEME HYPOTHESIS : The patient of a COS verb can be viewed as “incremental theme”. copy. b.. b.g. scratch. eat. 1991. measure./Chris ate from/of the apple. sweep.1 (14) Comparison with traditional incremental theme verbs T RADITIONAL INCREMENTAL THEME VERBS : read. c. eat... The teacher read us into a stupor. I wrote myself out of a job. in resultative constructions or via out-prefixation. a comparison of COS verbs with other incremental theme verbs suggests it is not the patient in its aspectual role which determines the characteristic argument realization profile of these verbs.g.g.3 Further investigation of the contribution of aspect to argument realization: Verbs with incremental themes aren’t uniform in argument realization A COMMON CURRENT PROPOSAL : The aspectual notion relevant to argument realization is “incremental theme” (Dowty 1991) or one of its relatives (e. — Verbs of consumption (e. rub. e. a. drink. subject of quantity). even when quantized. (N OTE : Potential—or latent (Tenny 1992)—incremental theme verbs fit this pattern (RH&L 2005)./I wrote at my book. (18) a./Dana read from the book. . build. c. . their “normal” object is a “location” (Fillmore 1970) or “force recipient” (Croft 1991. (15) (16) Dana read/ate/wrote. (17) Pat outread/outate/outwrote Chris.. This class is exemplified by surface contact verbs (e. Dana read the book. 3.. • Their incremental theme need not be realized. wipe. I wrote my book.) 4 . they permit unspecified objects and allow nonsubcategorized NPs as direct objects.g. write. T HE CRUCIAL DIFFERENCE : Traditional incremental theme verbs systematically lack the argument realization properties characteristic of COS verbs: They are more flexible in the options they allow. RH&L 2001): Their object may be analyzed as an incremental theme or not.g. comb. My kids ate me into the poorhouse. draw. recite). drink) — Verbs of creation (e. . memorize. • The argument normally considered the incremental theme need not be realized as direct object. write) — Representation-source theme verbs (Dowty 1979. however. shovel). though it is then no longer an incremental theme. Chris ate the apple.

4 Towards a comparative assessment of the causal and aspectual approaches: Dowty’s (1991) proto-role entailments Dowty’s proto-roles provide a good domain for assessing the relative contribution of aspectual and causal approaches to argument realization.3. (28)): — undergoes change of state — incremental theme — causally affected by another participant — stationary relative to movement of another participant — (does not exist independently of the event. (27)): — volitional involvement in the event or state — sentience (and/or perception) — causing an event or change of state in another participant — movement (relative to the position of another participant) — (exists independently of the event named by the verb) Contributing properties for the Patient Proto-Role (Dowty 1991:572. they include many commonly posited semantic determinants. Building on this idea.1 Basic properties of proto-roles These sets of entailments “unpackage” the content of the traditional notions “agent” and “patient” into more basic components. They contribute to the degree to which an argument can be understood as an agent or a patient without being jointly necessary and sufficient in defining either of these notions or in determining their syntactic realization as subject or object. 5 . The Agent proto-role—or Proto-Agent—includes properties that figure in typical descriptions of the traditional “agent” role. 4. Proto-roles avoid many of the problems that plague semantic roles as they are prototype notions. there must be more than the patient of a COS verb’s aspectual role as “incremental theme” which determines the characteristic argument realization profile of these verbs. he posits two proto-roles. or not at all) (20) Proto-Agent and Proto-Patient figure in subject and object selection. respectively. as both types of notions figure in their characterization. with the exception of the aspectual notion “incremental theme”. furthermore. each associated with its own set of lexical entailments. The contributing properties of each one can be seen as semantic determinants of subjecthood and objecthood. (19) Contributing properties for the Agent Proto-Role (Dowty 1991:572. Dowty characterizes the semantic determinants as lexical entailments that a verb imposes on its arguments by virtue of the part they play in the event the verb describes. • Specifically. the Patient proto-role—or Proto-Patient—includes properties that figure in descriptions of the “patient” role. The entailments making up the proto-roles are among the best known sets of semantic determinants of argument realization.2 The upshot of the COS/traditional incremental theme verb comparison • The distinctive argument realization profile of COS verbs is specific to this verb class and does not generalize to other classes which are given parallel aspectual semantic analyses.

(Dowty 1991:576. (Dowty 1991:576. stationary. the subject of John sees/fears Mary only possesses the sentience Proto-Agent entailment (Dowty 1991: 572. (29b)) the object of John erased the error only possesses the change of state Proto-Patient entailment (Dowty 1991: 572. if not all. incremental theme. proto-roles overcome problem of unclear boundaries facing traditional semantic roles. Chris is subject: volition. causation. b. (30a)) • Some pairs of subject NPs or object NPs have no shared proto-role entailments at all. a house is object: Proto-Patient entailments of change. (32)) C OROLLARY 2: With a three-place predicate. • Examples satisfying only one entailment of each proto-role to the exclusion of the others: (21) a. • An NP that meets most. sentience. then either or both may be lexicalized as the subject (and similarly for objects).Thus. 4. • An argument of a verb need not be associated with any of these entailments (though presumably every argument is associated with some entailment by its verb). but no Proto-Agent entailments. b. but no Proto-Patient entailments. (33)) (23) (24) • A N EXAMPLE : Subject/object selection in Chris built a house (Dowty 1991: 577) (25) a. causally affected. • A single NP may have some Proto-Agent and some Proto-Patient entailments. (Dowty 1991:576. • An explanation for the existence of psych-verb doublets such as fear and frighten 6 .2 (22) Proto-role entailments in argument realization A RGUMENT S ELECTION P RINCIPLE : In predicates with grammatical subject and object. independent existence Proto-Agent entailments. dependent existence. the argument having the greatest number of Proto-Patient entailments will be lexicalized as the direct object. the criteria for either Proto-Agent or Proto-Patient corresponds to a “good” example of the relevant role. as in Brutus assassinated Caesar. movement. (31)) C OROLLARY 1: If two arguments of a relation have (approximately) equal numbers of entailed Proto-Agent and Proto-Patient properties. A N EXAMPLE : the object of frighten psych-verbs with a change of state interpretation has the Proto-Agent entailment of sentience and the Proto-Patient entailment of undergoing a change of state (Dowty 1991: 579–80). the argument for which the predicate entails the greatest number of Proto-Agent properties will be lexicalized as the subject of the predicate. the nonsubject argument having the greater number of entailed Proto-patient properties will be lexicalized as the direct object and the nonsubject argument having fewer entailed Proto-Patient properties will be lexicalized as an oblique or prepositional object (and if two nonsubject arguments have approximately equal numbers of entailed P-Patient properties. either or both may be lexicalized as direct object).

b. As no other proto-role entailments distinguish between the arguments of these verbs. In fact. Stative reading: Ghosts frighten me. the argument selection principle doesn’t unambiguously determine subject and object.4 Causers have priority in subject selection There is evidence that one Proto-Agent entailment is more important than the others in subject selection: causation outranks the other Proto-Agent entailments (Davis & Koenig 2000:75-76): if an argument has the causer entailment. . (28) “.” (Koenig & Davis 2001:82-83) 7 . the NP denoting the moving object is mapped onto subject position. for all verbs that denote causal events. Volitional involvement in the event is also sufficient to ensure mapping to subject position in non-causative verbs. Similarly. On their stative use. 4. language-by-language. 4. Dowty himself acknowledges that perhaps not all proto-role entailments contribute equally to subject and object selection. it is simply the number of entailments that counts. Experiencer-subject fear verbs: My cousin fears spiders. . Finally.(26) Two classes of psych-verbs: a. which forces the experiencer to be selected as object. When the experiencer is entailed to undergo a change of state. The priorities that emerge illuminate the respective contribution of the causal and aspectual approaches to argument realization. (27) a. Experiencer-object frighten verbs: Spiders frighten my cousin. . it is associated with a ProtoPatient entailment. verbs of both types have a Proto-Agent entailment associated with both their stimulus and experiencer arguments: sentience/experiencer and causation/stimulus. among non-causative verbs. (Dowty 1991:579-580. Nonstative change of state reading: The loud noise frightened me. 586-587) Another property of psych-verbs also follows on Dowty’s approach: Most frighten verbs show a nonstative change of state reading. possibly. . . creating an asymmetry between the experiencer and stimulus. Yet. it is subject. b. . as well as the stative meaning.3 Do all proto-role entailments contribute equally? Dowty’s proposal assumes no priorities among proto-role entailments in argument realization. the only proto-agent entailment that we need to consider is whether the participant causally affects another participant in the event. there is empirical evidence that this is so. Two pairings are compatible with these rules: (i) experiencer/subject and stimulus/object and (ii) stimulus/subject and experiencer/object Appropriate pairing is determined verb-by-verb or. sentience is sufficient to ensure mapping to subject . for all verbs for which being in motion counts as a proto-agent entailment. .

“changes state” outranks the others in determining objecthood. • And causation again takes priority over the Proto-Agent entailment. also syntactically.’ (Finnish. (29) a. Morgan 1969. kill) have been attributed a complex event structure (Dowty 1979.item talk-CAUS-PAST woman-PL-PART ‘The news made the women talk for a long time. thus.5 Entities that change state have priority in object selection • The same idea could be carried over to Dowty’s Proto-Patient entailments and object selection: Among these entailments. 1996).’ (Hebrew) Uutinen puhu-tt-i nais-i-a news. sentience: a sentient participant is subject only when there is no causer (Dowty 1991). regardless of the causee’s Proto-Agent entailments (e. von Stechow 1995.E VIDENCE SUPPORTING DAVIS & KOENIG ’ S PROPOSAL • In languages with productive morphological causatives. motion: a moving participant is subject only when there is no causer (Dowty 1991).CAUS I. Ha-b’dixa hicxika oti. McCawley 1971. (31) a. the-joke laugh. volition). b.. (32) [ [ x ACT ] CAUSE [ BECOME [ y <STATE> ] ] ] When a two-argument verb has a complex event structure.. (30) a. 4. W HY SHOULD CAUSATION OUTRANK OTHER P ROTO -AGENT ENTAILMENTS ? Causative verbs (e. an argument of the higher event is less embedded than an argument of the lower event and should be more prominent semantically and. the introduced causer is invariably the causative subject. • Also relevant is Tsunoda’s (1985) observation that accidental killing is as effective as intentional killing: the killer is the causer whether or not the killing is volitional. break. 8 . The toddler (*deliberately) feared the lion.g. The wind blew the napkin off the table. Causers have priority as subjects due to the structure of event structure. a¨ long-ILL b. Davis & Koenig 2000:75. The lion (deliberately) frightened the toddler. comprised of one event embedded in a second. sentience. The train passed/crossed the border. b. • Causation also takes priority over the Proto-Agent entailment.g. (26)) pitk¨ an.ACC ‘The joke made me laugh.

— A stationary entity cannot be the object in the presence of an entity that changes state. (bat moves and changes state. (35) Pat broke the bat against the window. (Dowty 1991:574. Primus 1999:52-53): 9 . while an entity lexically entailed to undergo movement CAN be an object.6 Identifying asymmetric relations between arguments Subject and object selection implicitly involves imposing (semantic) prominence relations on pairs of arguments and the contributing properties of Dowty’s proto-roles implicitly point to a way of doing this. • Localist theories conceptualize changes of state as changes of location (Gruber 1965. but does change state) The parade passed the queen’s window. window changes state) Pat broke the bat against the window. PAIRING OF ENTAILMENTS: Some Proto-Agent and Proto-Patient properties come in pairs. presumably. 4. (window is stationary. window may or may not change state) Pat hit the window with a bat. (bat moves. but may or may not change state. but does not necessarily change state. b. (36) a. but does not change state. (33) a. (bat moves. (37) a. window may or may not change state) The waiter filled the glass with water. E VIDENCE: A moving entity can’t be object in the presence of an entity that changes state. 1983). but need not be. window may or may not change state) Pat hit the bat against the window./*The waiter filled water into the glass. but an entity lexically entailed to undergo a change of state MUST be the direct object. Jackendoff 1976. (glass changes state. (window is causally affected. another reflection of the necessary association of entities that change state with objecthood. (38) Pat broke the window with a bat. b. b. bat changes state) Pat broke the window with a bat. no argument changes state) — An entity that changes state has priority in object selection over an entity that is simply affected. (window is stationary and does not change state. Croft 1998:37. water moves) • Object alternations are only found with means/manner verbs. bat changes state) — Hard to evaluate the place of “incremental theme” as it is hard to separate from a change of state. Koenig & Davis 2001:83. (bat moves. (34) Pat broke the bat against the window. (window is stationary.

a similar idea is introduced by Davis & Koenig (2000:73): “Finally. . implicitly define a ranking of arguments (Primus 1999). c. the one that outranks the other on the Saliency Hierarchy wins out. Other researchers tend to state semantic determinants in terms of a series of oppositions that can be used in subject and object assignment (Mohanan 1994:28. the scene entity that has the highest rank will be realized as the subject . A complete or individuated element outranks a part of an element. Proto-Agent “causing an event or change of state in another participant” and Proto-Patient “undergoes change of state” Proto-Agent “movement (relative to the position of another participant)” and Proto-Patient “stationary relative to movement of another participant”. e. A ‘figure’ outranks a ‘ground’. Fillmore 1977:102). . thus.(39) a. (Fillmore 1977:102) 10 . b. note that although it is difficult to provide a unifying characterization for each set of entailments. An active element outranks an inactive element. . What is particularly interesting is that the semantic notions they make reference to overlap considerably with Dowty’s proto-role entailments. and. A causal element outranks a noncausal element. they reflect an asymmetric relation between event participants. In each pair the Proto-Patient entailment is dependent on the Proto-Agent entailment. g. f. A relation of control could help impose a ranking on pairs of arguments and thus determine subject vs. (Fillmore 1977:102) (41) a. while the UNDERGOER entailments typify affected participants. since every sentence has to have a subject. A ‘definite’ element outranks an ‘indefinite’ element. d. What is the nature of the semantic relation defining the pairings? Primus (1999:36-37) sees the pairings as entailments of a more general “control” relation. with incremental theme being the major omission. (40) F ILLMORE ’ S S ALIENCY H IERARCHY: a. The entailments characteristic of the ACTOR attribute might then reduce to a general entailment roughly paraphrasable as ‘has control over the unfolding of the situation’” This notion is reminiscent of “asymmetric force transmission”. . Proto-Agent “exists independently of the event named by the verb” and Proto-Patient “does not exist independently of the event. b. the ACTOR entailments relate to initiating an event and affecting other participants. Paired entailments identify participants in a semantic relation. If it is a verb that can take either of two things as direct object. object realization where event structure alone is insufficient. A human (or animate) experiencer outranks other elements. c. b. Thus. . or not at all”. A changed element outranks a nonchanged element.

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