Lexical Representation, Lexical Semantics, and Syntax
University of Texas at Austin
Friday, October 13, 2023
12:30 p.m.2 p.m.
Theories of verb meaning usually assume that verbs are organized in alanguage's vocabulary either in terms of the kinds of events or states they describe, or else in terms of the kinds of entities that participate in those events and states. These basic semantic concepts are furthermore assumed to be organized into semantic structures --- events that are broken into subevents, or coherent casts of participants --- that determine what sorts of prefixes and suffixes a verb takes and what sorts of other phrases it combines with, i.e. its grammatical properties. In this talk I explore the ins and outs of such theories. I suggest that in many cases the proposed semantic structures are not motivated by anything other than the grammatical properties they were meant to explain. I show instead that a theory of a verb's grammatical properties can instead be based on the actual meanings of the words, i.e. what must be true of the world to even use the word, and the ways word meanings contrast with one another. I also explore several other factors that govern how words are used grammatically, including pragmatics and common conventions of word usage. The case studies I explore come from data on English, Colloquial Sinhala, Bahasa Indonesian, and the Uto-Aztecan language O'dam. I ultimately suggest that the relationship of word meaning to grammar is governed by a soup of factors, but with actual meaning at the heart of it all.