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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
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Natural Language & Linguistic Theory
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National Science Foundation
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