skip to main content


Title: Mediating functions and the semantics of noun incorporation
Abstract Noun incorporation is commonly thought to avoid the weak compositionality of compounds because it involves conjunction of an argument noun with the incorporating verb. However, it is weakly compositional in two ways. First, the noun’s entity argument needs to be bound or saturated, but previous accounts fail to adequately ensure that it is. Second, non-arguments are often incorporated in many languages, and their thematic role is available for contextual selection. We show that these two weaknesses are actually linked. We focus on the Kiowa language, which generally bars objects from incorporation but allows non-arguments. We show that a mediating relation is required to semantically link the noun to the verb. Absent a relation, the noun’s entity argument is not saturated, and the entire expression is uninterpretable. The mediating relation for non-objects also assigns it a thematic role instead of a postposition. Speakers can choose this role freely, subject to independent constraints from the pragmatics, syntax, and semantics. Objects in Kiowa are in fact allowed to incorporate in certain environments, but we show that these all independently involve a mediating relation. The mediating relation for objects quantifies over the noun and links the noun+verb construction to the rest of the clause. The head that introduces this relation re-categorizes the verb in the syntactic derivation. Essentially, we demonstrate two distinct mechanisms for noun incorporation. Having derived the distribution of Kiowa, we apply the same relations to derive constraints on English complex verbs and synthetic compounds, which exhibit most of the same constraints as Kiowa noun incorporation. We also look at languages with routine object incorporation, and show how the transitivity of the verb depends on whether the v° head introducing the external argument assigns case to the re-categorized verb.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
1664431
NSF-PAR ID:
10301957
Author(s) / Creator(s):
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Natural Language & Linguistic Theory
ISSN:
0167-806X
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Children use syntax to learn verbs, in a process known as syntactic bootstrapping. The structure‐mapping account proposes that syntactic bootstrapping begins with a universal bias to map each noun phrase in a sentence onto a participant role in a structured conceptual representation of an event. Equipped with this bias, children interpret thenumber of noun phrasesaccompanying a new verb as evidence about the semantic predicate–argument structure of the sentence, and therefore about the meaning of the verb. In this paper, we first review evidence for the structure–mapping account, and then discuss challenges to the account arising from the existence of languages that allow verbs' arguments to be omitted, such as Korean. These challenges prompt us to (a) refine our notion of the distributional learning mechanisms that create representations of sentence structure, and (b) propose that anexpectation of discourse continuityallows children to gather linguistic evidence for each verb’s arguments across sentences in a coherent discourse. Taken together, the proposed learning mechanisms and biases sketch a route whereby simple aspects of sentence structure guide verb learning from the start of multi‐word sentence comprehension, and do so even if some of the new verb’s arguments are omitted due to discourse redundancy.

     
    more » « less
  2. Research questions:

    This study asks whether an interface phenomenon such as noun incorporation (NI) displays meaningful socially conditioned variation in the endangered polysynthetic language, Chukchi, by investigating whether speakers of all levels of experience or proficiency make use of NI in a consistent, rule-governed way.

    Design and methodology:

    This study compares production data from small groups of speakers of a moribund language. Study tasks include a controlled production task in which speakers are asked to construct sentences using provided lexical items. The lexical items were conditioned so as to trigger NI in certain stimuli (on the basis of verbal valency and argument animacy).

    Data and analysis:

    The production data was transcribed and coded for the occurrence and structural type of NI (compounding vs. syntactic incorporation). The results were compared across three groups of speakers: conservative older speakers, younger attriting speakers, and new speakers.

    Findings/conclusions:

    NI frequency and productivity clearly differ among the three groups. CSs use incorporation frequently and productively in the expected contexts, while ASs use productive incorporation only in familiar contexts, followed by NSs who make little to no use of incorporation. All speaker groups display knowledge of the appropriate circumstances in which to use incorporation.

    Originality:

    This study makes use of a novel experimental methodology in studying several under-researched areas: variation in traditional Chukchi, shift-induced variation in a polysynthetic language, and NI as a locus of variation.

    Significance/implications:

    This study contributes to our understanding of the behavior of non-normative speakers of endangered languages and demonstrates that they play a role in language preservation. The study shows that the diffuse nature of the Chukchi speech community is different from comparatively well-studied shift settings (especially in the North American and European contexts) in its lack of a community of use or practice, which presents unique challenges in language maintenance.

     
    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    This article explores the role of semantics in argument realization by providing a lexical semantic account of the contribution of applicative morphology in the Bantu language Kinyarwanda (Rwanda). I propose that applicativization is best analyzed through a constraint on the paradigmatic relationship between applied and non-applied variants of a verb. Specifically, I argue that the applied variant requires an increase in lexical entailments associated with an internal argument of the predicate, and verb classes have varying lexicalized strategies for how they satisfy this constraint. Building on earlier work on Bantu applicatives, I argue that the syntactic and semantic contributions of an applicative operate independently but with all outputs being subject to the constraint on applicativization that I propose. Taking these facts together, this predicts a typology of three possible outputs for applicativization: one in which the applicative adds a new argument and associated thematic role (the function that is most frequently discussed), one in which the applicative has the effect of giving license to an unrealized participant entailed by the meaning of the verb, and one in which the applicative does not increase valence but rather modifies the thematic role of an existing internal argument. I describe three verb classes in Kinyarwanda which exemplify these three predicted types of output of applicativization. This approach thus subsumes previous observations about the varied functions of applicative morphology under a single analysis as well as builds on earlier work on paradigmatic argument alternations (such as the oblique alternations) by extending such approaches to valency-changing morphology.

     
    more » « less
  4. How quickly can verb-argument relations be computed to impact predictions of a subsequent argument? We take advantage of the substantial differences in verb-argument structure provided by Mandarin, whose compound verbs encode complex event relations, such as resultatives (Kid bit-broke lip: the kid bit his lip such that it broke) and coordinates (Store owner hit-scolded employee: the store owner hit and scolded an employee). We tested sentences in which the object noun could be predicted on the basis of the preceding compound verb, and used N400 responses to the noun to index successful prediction. By varying the delay between verb and noun, we show that prediction is delayed in the resultative context (broken-BY-biting) relative to the coordinate one (hitting-AND-scolding). These results present a first step towards temporally dissociating the fine-grained subcomputations required to parse and interpret verb- argument relations. 
    more » « less
  5. We examine the role of referential properties and lexical stipulation in three closely related languages of eastern Indonesia, the Alor-Pantar languages Abui, Kamang, and Teiwa. Our focus is on the continuum along which event properties (e.g. volitionality, affectedness) are highly important at one extreme or play virtually no role at the other. These languages occupy different points along this continuum. In Abui, event semantics play the greatest role, while in Teiwa they play the smallest role (the lexical property animacy being dominant in the formation of verb classes). Kamang occupies an intermediate position. Teiwa has conventionalised the relation between a verb and its class along the lines of animacy so that classes become associated with the animacy value of the objects with which the verbs in a given class typically occur. Paying attention to a lexical property like animacy, in contrast with event properties, has meant greater potential for arbitrary classes to emerge. 
    more » « less