Regular and Idiosyncratic Meaning in The Roots of Words

John Beavers

University of Texas at Austin

Friday, October 20, 2023
12:30 p.m.–2 p.m.

Lattimore 201

One of the most widely accepted facts about word meaning is that manywords share meaning in common, grouping words into classes, but thatwithin each class there's something unique and idiosyncratic abouteach word. It is commonly assumed that the grammar of a language only"sees" the regular bits --- the idiosyncratic parts of a given wordsmeaning are not really linguistically very significant, so much sothat studying their individual content is not likely to be veryfruitful. In this talk I explore this issue in detail, and suggestthat hidden within the idiosyncrasies of individual words are types ofregularity --- sometimes the very same regularities that define wholeword classes --- that are significant for how the word is usedgrammatically. I draw on two primary case studies, one a broad,typological study of the ways subtly different cause/effect scenariosare described across a balanced sample of languages, and one on thediverse patterns of expressions of giving in English and the Bantulanguage Kinyarwanda. I conclude by suggesting that regularity andidiosyncrasy are not so different from one another, and form more of acontinuum than a sharp division.