Lexical Representation, Lexical Semantics, and Syntax

John Beavers

University of Texas at Austin

Friday, October 13, 2023
Noon–2 p.m.

Lattimore 201

Theories of verb meaning usually assume that verbs are organized in alanguage's vocabulary either in terms of the kinds of events or statesthey describe, or else in terms of the kinds of entities thatparticipate in those events and states. These basic semantic conceptsare furthermore assumed to be organized into semantic structures ---events that are broken into subevents, or coherent casts ofparticipants --- that determine what sorts of prefixes and suffixes averb takes and what sorts of other phrases it combines with, i.e. itsgrammatical properties. In this talk I explore the ins and outs ofsuch theories. I suggest that in many cases the proposed semanticstructures are not motivated by anything other than the grammaticalproperties they were meant to explain. I show instead that a theory ofa verb's grammatical properties can instead be based on the actualmeanings of the words, i.e. what must be true of the world to even usethe word, and the ways word meanings contrast with one another. I alsoexplore several other factors that govern how words are usedgrammatically, including pragmatics and common conventions of wordusage. The case studies I explore come from data on English,Colloquial Sinhala, Bahasa Indonesian, and the Uto-Aztecan languageO'dam. I ultimately suggest that the relationship of word meaning togrammar is governed by a soup of factors, but with actual meaning atthe heart of it all.