Academic journal article British and American Studies

English Verbs of Motion and Prototype Theory

Academic journal article British and American Studies

English Verbs of Motion and Prototype Theory

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The main aim of the paper is to analyse the English verbs of motion from the perspective of Prototype Theory, using the findings of S. G. Pulman (1983), which will be presented in the next section. To this point, Prototype Theory has been mostly concerned with nouns, sometimes with adjectives and prepositions, but there have been very few attempts to apply Prototype Theory to verb analyses. After a short historical overview of the development of Prototype Theory and a presentation of two major attempts to approach verbs using Prototype Theory, the English verbs of motion, as defined and selected in Miller 1972 and Levin 1993, are sorted in accordance with two prototypicality experiments involving respondents and one frequency experiment based on the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA). The paper will also try to find out whether there are any semantic "patterns" in the order of verbs obtained from the three experiments.

2. Theoretical framework

2.1. The Basics of Prototype Theory

In discussing Prototype theory, one usually starts with the problem of categorization. According to Smith and Medin 1981 and Medin and Rips 2005, we may distinguish between at least three groups of approaches to categories: atomistic, probabilistic, and exemplar. The atomistic approach largely corresponds to what we call the objectivist view, in which things belong to the same category in case they have certain (usually objective) properties in common - categories are consequently verifiable and they correspond to the real world. The probabilistic approach is based on binary features, which can be either present or absent within a concept, and configurations of these features determine whether a concept can be classified within a particular category or not. Properties within these two approaches are called necessary and sufficient conditions for defining a category. Categories based on necessary and sufficient conditions and/or binary features are usually clearly bounded and their members have equal status (Taylor 1989:23-24). In the exemplar approach, the best representatives of a category serve as 'role models' in the process of categorization and this view seems to be very close to what we call Prototype Theory, which is the dominant approach to categorization in the experiential view.

Even though we may track the beginnings of the prototypical approach to categories back to Kant's claims that concepts cannot be empirically delineated and that the synthesis of our knowledge is not arbitrary, but related to our experience (Kant 1791, Einleitung, III, IV, in Antovic 2009: 90) and Husserl's notion of categorical intuition (Husserl 1900/2001), contemporary semanticists usually regard Wittgenstein as the forefather of Prototype Theory. While trying to define the term game, Wittgenstein (1953:31-33) claims that the boundaries of the category are fuzzy and that this does not make it less valid than some of the categories which are not as fuzzy - the category of games is not based on shared necessary and sufficient features or conditions, as there are no attributes common to all the games in the world, but on a "criss-crossing network of similarities" (Taylor 1989:38). Wittgenstein uses the famous metaphor of'family resemblances' to illustrate this network of similarities - the notion that entities thought to be connected by one essential common feature may actually be connected by a series of overlapping similarities, with no feature common to all of them. Wittgenstein's views on categories certainly influenced Zadeh's (1965) fuzzy set theory and Lakoff s (1972) early claims that category membership is not binary in any way, but rather a matter of degree (Stamenkovic 2012:176-177).

The early experiments which confirmed these assumptions on categories were performed by William Labov (1973), Willett Kempton (1981), Eleanor Rosch (1973, 1975a,b), Brent Berlin (1978), Paul Kay, and Chad McDaniel (1978) among others. …

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