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
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
b. ...ta [Jon for kelner]. (...take Jon for (being) a
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
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
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
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
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
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
(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
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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About the PLC23 Committee
Previously held Penn Linguistics Colloquium: PLC22 (1998), PLC21 (1997)
Penn Department of Linguistics
University of Pennsylvania