Aspect and Predication: The Semantics of Argument Structure

Aspect and Predication: The Semantics of Argument Structure

Aspect and Predication: The Semantics of Argument Structure

Aspect and Predication: The Semantics of Argument Structure

Synopsis

This book investigates the systematic correspondences between syntactic structure and semantic interpretation in the domain of predicate-argument relationships. Taking Scottish Gaelic as its empirical base, the book provides a detailed working out of a semantic system of argument classification which moves away from lexically-driven thematic roles in the traditional sense and towards a more constrained, syntactically motivated, set of primitives.

Excerpt

It has long been recognised that a theory of semantics is probably not complete without either a characterisation of the different verb types that appear in language (Vendler 1967; Dowty 1979), or some classification of the argument types appearing with particular verbs (Belletti &Rizzi 1988; Jackendoff 1990). Within the syntactic tradition, lexical semanticists have made use of the notion of thematic relations (or θ-roles) as a classification of argument types ever since Fillmore (1968) and Gruber (1965). The idea behind many 'strong' thematic role theories is that a certain restricted set of role types exists, and that knowledge of the role types 'assigned' by a particular lexical verb allows us to predict core aspects of that verb's syntactic behaviour. The kind of classification that results from syntacticians' use of traditional θ-role labels employs categories such as 'unaccusative', 'unergative', 'middle', 'active transitive', and 'experiencer' verbs. However, despite the general acknowledgement of such classes in the literature, the traditional notions of θ-roles have remained notoriously vague and undecidable. Moreover, the syntacticians' classes often seem totally unrelated to the formal semanticists' categories of 'state', 'activity', 'achievement' and 'accomplishment' which result from a basically aspectual classification of events. It seems that in general, syntacticians have sought to make sense of the phenomenon of different verb types in terms of primitive argument types or roles, while the semanticists have classically seen the problem in terms of primitive aspectual verb phrase and sentential types.

At the present stage in the development of the field, both syntacticians and semanticists seem to be realising the need to incorporate the other perspective on the problem into their own systems. So, for example, linguists working in syntax have noted the connection between argument types and the aspectual character of the verb phrase they appear in (Tenny . . .

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