Semantically Charged Syntax and the Construction of Meaning

Kristin M. Eide & Tor A. Afarli
Norwegian University of Science and Technology

1. Bowers (1993) proposes that the subject-predicate relation is formed by a predication operator (a function from a property to a propositional function) that heads an independent functional predication projection, as shown e.g. in (1a). He also suggests that this operator may be lexicalised in certain cases, for instance as in (1b).

(1)	a. ...make [PrP John [Pr' [Pr OP] [AP crazy]]]
	b. ...regard [PrP John [Pr' [Pr OP/as] [AP crazy]]]

In our talk we will first show that many different types of element may lexicalise the predication operator. We then go on to argue that a given visible element is often multifunctional in that it may potentially lexicalise different types of functional operator, and we propose that syntactic representations are structured objects essentially composed by functional operators that are made visible by various types of element by insertion or movement. We end our talk by a detailed investigation of how a given projection is determined as regards its syntactico-semantic content.

2. Using Mainland Scandinavian data, we first show that the particle som in structures like (2) is the lexicalisation of the predication operator.

(2)	a. ...anse [Jon som gal].		(...consider Jon as crazy.)
	b. ...sende [pakken som ilpost].
                                       (...send the parcel as urgent mail.)

We then argue that til in resultative small clauses like (3a) and for in small clauses like (3b) lexicalise the predication operator, as well.

(3) a. ...gjøre [Jon til forbryter]. (...make Jon to a criminal.) b. ...ta [Jon for kelner]. (...take Jon for (being) a waiter.)

Among the evidence that is brought to bear on the issue is the fact that small clauses headed by til or for (like small clauses headed by som) may contain an expletive or expletive-like subject, indicating that the bracketed parts in (4) are indeed clausal expressions.

(4)	a. ...gjøre [det til noe skittent at jeg har sagt dette].
	  (...make it to sm.thing dirty that...)
	b. ...ta [det for gitt at jeg har sagt dette].
           (...take it for a given that...)

We will also argue that copular verbs lexicalise the predication operator. Generalising that idea, we argue that ordinary main verbs lexicalise the predication operator, thus in effect defending an analysis reminiscent of the 17th century Port Royal thesis that a given verb is constituted by a concealed copula and an attribute.

3. Not only do different elements lexicalise the predication operator; we also show that any given element that may lexicalise that operator has potentially various other functions besides. Thus, som may be used as a complementizer or comparative particle in addition to its use as a predicational particle. Likewise, til and for may function as ordinary prepositions, and være 'be' may be used e.g. as an auxiliary verb or an existential verb. That is, the very same element ap- pears to be capable of being "recycled" in different syntactico-semantic roles.
We explain this phenomenon in terms of a notion of multifunctionality, arguing that po- lysemy is a derivative notion. Assuming that syntactic elements make functional operators visible by "supporting" them (cf. the notion of do-support), we thus argue that the content of any syntactico-semantic projection is at least partly constituted by the content of the operator and partly by the content of the supporting element or marker. Therefore, the supporting element always underdetermines the content of the projection it heads. Specifically, we shall argue that any visible element is a potentially versatile structural position marker, and we propose that a syntactic string is the derivative visible expression of a rudimentary semantic representation constituted by structurally ordered operator tokens, the latter in effect constituting the basic underlying logical form of the sentence. We furthermore claim that the syntactic string reflects this rudimentary operator structure in a homomorphic fashion (cf. also Bouchard 1995).

4. Knowing the syntactico-semantic content of a given functional projection X, one challenge is to determine in each particular instance the relative contributions of the visible marker Y and the abstract operator Z. E.g., we will argue that a modal auxiliary like må 'must', with its fixed inherent meaning (obligation), is typically able to lexicalise any of two different operators, yiel- ding the epistemic vs. deontic reading, respectively (rendering polysemy derivative):

(5)	a. Jon må ha dratt.
              (Jon must have left, i.e. it is pretty certain that he did)
 	b. Jon har måttet dra.
              (John has been obliged to leave)

In particular, we will discuss the relative contribution of the underlying predication operator and the inherent descriptive content of the visible marker in the case of main verbs, showing how the verb´s inherent Theta-properties interact with the operator, among other things to yield the subject requirement (EPP).

We go on to show that the apprehended meaning of a projection is not exhausted by the content of the operator and the content of the visible element. For instance, the complement of a verb typically plays a crucial role in determining the reading of the verb itself. Thus, in (6) we argue that is lexicalise the predication operator and has a constant inherent meaning in each in- stance, the different readings of the verb being due to the semantic nature of the complement.

(6)	a. Clark Kent is a man.	        (= pure predicational reading)
	b. Clark Kent is Superman.	(= equative reading)
	c. Clark Kent is outside.	(= existential/spatial reading)

If time permits, we will also investigate to what extent our encyclopedic knowledge plays a role in the interpretation of the syntactico-semantic projections and relations at hand.


Bouchard, D. (1995) The Semantics of Syntax. A Minimalist Approach to Grammar, Chicago University Press.
Bowers, J. (1993) "The Syntax of Predication", Linguistic Inquiry 24: 591-656.

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Previously held Penn Linguistics Colloquium: PLC22 (1998), PLC21 (1997)

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