Academic journal article Linguistic Discovery

A Canonical Approach to the Argument/Adjunct Distinction

Academic journal article Linguistic Discovery

A Canonical Approach to the Argument/Adjunct Distinction

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

At the beginning of the discussion of the argument/adjunct distinction stands a simple observation: some linguistic expressions in a clause are central to the predicate, i.e. they 'complete' the predicate, and their referents are equally central to the situation referred to by the predicate. In contrast, other linguistic expressions are peripheral to the predicate and the participants they denote pertain to the situation as a whole (cf. Dowty 2000). The former type of linguistic expression is often called 'arguments' (or 'complements'), and the latter type 'adjuncts' (or 'modifiers'). From a scanning of the major literature on the argument/adjunct distinction it seems evident that:

* the distinction is not binary and not categorical, but rather gradual in its nature

* the use of tests to identify arguments and adjuncts in particular constructions leads to contradictory results

* it involves morphosyntactic and semantic criteria/diagnostics

In this paper, I propose to implement the 'canonical approach' (cf. Corbett 2005, 2007; Brown, Chumakina and Corbett 2013) in the exploration of the argument/ adjunct distinction. Following Corbett's method, I will identify canonical instances of argumenthood and adjuncthood (e.g. Peter in Peter cries is a canonical instance of an argument, whereas despite the noise in I slept well despite the noise is a canonical instance of an adjunct). Taking the canonical instances as the ideal endpoints of a scale, I will try to build up the possible logical space for the argument-adjunct continuum by figuring out the relevant syntactic and semantic criteria and their more or less canonical values. The advantage of the canonical approach is that it allows us, as Corbett (2007) puts it, to "handle gradient phenomena in a principled way". This means that we do not have to specify how many particular points the argument-adjunct continuum has (e.g. three, as in Matthews (1981: 140), four, as in Mosel (2007), six, as in Somers (1984), or even more, as in Arka (this volume)) but only define the endpoints by means of a set of converging criteria. In order to test my approach I will apply it to data from the Nakh-Daghestanian language Hinuq. In this language we find a number of constructions containing NPs marked with spatial cases serving various functions that are somewhere between arguments and adjuncts.

The paper is structured in the following way: I start with a discussion of criteria for argumenthood and diagnostic tendencies in the behavior of arguments in Section 2. Section 3 illustrates how the approach can be applied to NPs bearing spatial case markers in Hinuq, and Section 4 concludes the paper.

2. A Canonical Typology of Arguments and Adjuncts

In the spirit of canonical typology (cf. Corbett 2005, 2007, Nikolaeva 2013 among others) I have identified five criteria that can be used to distinguish canonical arguments from canonical adjuncts:

* obligatoriness

* latency

* co-occurrence restrictions

* grammatical relations

* iterability

By 'criteria' I mean defining properties that concern the nature of what it means to be an argument or adjunct. The list is based on the existing literature on this topic including various tests that have been proposed. I complement the criteria with an additional list of diagnostic tendencies (Section 2.2). The tendencies are not necessary or sufficient properties of arguments or adjuncts, but formal and functional diagnostics that can be taken as helpful tests when approaching a new language or construction. Criteria and tendencies concern the grammatical domains of morphology, syntax and semantics, but morphology is only of secondary importance for the argument/adjunct distinction. In contrast, syntax and semantic are equally significant (Helbig and Schenkel 1983: 60-66), and we must carefully distinguish between syntactic and semantic arguments. …

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