On Gerunds and the Theory of Categories

Mark Baker
Rutgers University

Close to the heart of a theory of lexical categories are questions of what it is for a category to be nominal or verbal. Such a theory could then be immediately applicable to the question of whether or not it is possible for a single category to be both nominal and verbal simultaneously. In Baker’s (2003) theory of lexical categories, the answer is no: a “noun-verb” category is ruled out by the Reference Predication Constraint. However, a range of theorists take the answer to be yes: in particular, they claim that gerunds like singing in Pat’s singing the national anthem so passionately are lexical categories that are simultaneously nouns and verbs (e.g. Malouf 2000, Hudson 2003). In this talk, I will argue that Baker’s answer was the correct one. Gerunds are not single syntactic nodes that are simultaneously nouns and verbs; rather they are the postsyntactic fusion of two distinct nodes—an ordinary verb and an Infl that is nominal. Moreover, the Reference Predication Constraint plays a positive explanatory role in inducing the correct typology of Infl-type nodes, accounting for the different properties of “verbal” Infls (in finite clauses) and “nominal” Infls (gerundive clauses) crosslinguistically. The theory will be illustrated with examples from three typologically distinct languages: English, Mapudungun, and Lokaa. The Reference Predication Constraint explains why gerunds cannot bear agreement in the polysynthetic language Mapudungun, and why gerunds with verb-final word order cannot appear in subject position in the West African language Lokaa. I conclude that the features and principles that define the lexical categories according to Baker 2003 also apply to functional categories such as Infl.

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