LINGUIST List 13.1801

Thu Jun 27 2002

Diss: Semantics: Zhang 'Enriched Composition...'

Editor for this issue: Karolina Owczarzak <>


  1. renzhang, Semantics: Zhang 'Enriched Composition and Inference...'

Message 1: Semantics: Zhang 'Enriched Composition and Inference...'

Date: Tue, 25 Jun 2002 12:03:55 +0000
From: renzhang <>
Subject: Semantics: Zhang 'Enriched Composition and Inference...'

New Dissertation Abstract

Institution: York University
Program: Graduate Program in English
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2002

Author: Ren Zhang 

Dissertation Title: 
Enriched Composition and Inference in the Argument Structure of Chinese 

Linguistic Field: 
Syntax, Semantics, Cognitive Science

Subject Language: Chinese, Mandarin 

Dissertation Director 1: Robert van Valin
Dissertation Director 2: Diane Massam
Dissertation Director 3: Ruth King
Dissertation Director 4: Peter Avery

Dissertation Abstract: 

The empirical focus of this dissertation is a set of non-canonical
argument structure phenomena in Mandarin Chinese in which the external
and the direct internal argument bear a non-transparent semantic
relation to the eventuality expressed by the verb of a sentence, as
with Xiaowang sile fuqin ('Xiaowang died (his) father' : 'Xiaowang's
father died') and Xiaowang jinchang chi zhejia changuan ('Xiaowang
often eats this restaurant': 'Xiaowang often has his meal in this
restaurant'). Such phenomena pose a challenge to the Projectionist
view of the relation between the lexicon and the syntax, according to
which the number of syntactic arguments is determined by the lexical
semantics of the verb. I propose a semantic account of such
'unselected' arguments within the framework of Conceptual Semantics
(e.g. Jackendoff 1990) and situate my proposals within a general
constructionist perspective of linguistic theory (Jackendoff
2000). Discussing a wide range of data, I show that the 'unselected'
internal and external arguments are licensed in terms of an enriched
view of conceptual combination and inferences and that no abstract
syntactic mechanisms need to be invoked for such phenomena.

	First, a schematic conceptual structure of the eat restaurant
type of examples is proposed, which can be roughly glossed as 'one
entity undertakes an event by affecting another entity in some
way'. Based on such a general conceptual structure as well as the
lexical conceptual structures of the elements in the construction, I
propose three conditions governing the semantics of the construction:
(1) the event is brought into existence by an agentive quale
(Pustejovksy 1995) in which some default entity x is affected; (2) the
unselected complement expresses an entity m with a telic quale that
caters to the need of the event in (1); and (3) there should be no
redundancy between x and m. Exceptions to such generalizations are
treated under a Preference Rule System of defeasible typicality
conditions, based on Lascarides and Copestake (1998).

	Secondly, three constructions, the possessum-object
construction, the retained-object passive construction and the
locative inversion construction, are subsumed under the category of
'unselected' subjects and are given a uniform treatment in term of
conceptual inferences and a Noteworthiness Condition, drawing on
Nunberg's (1995) work on predicate transfer. Both the possessum-object
construction and the locative inversion construction share a
conceptual structure in which a Thing or a Place is predicated over by
a State as its property, whereas the conceptual structure of a
retained-object passive is defined in schematic action-tier terms as
one entity z reacting to an event involving its possessum, which in
turn affects z lexically or contextually. The conceptual structures of
these constructions are linked to those of their canonical
alternations by two types of inference rules involving set inclusion
and inferences from a spatial event with a Place adjunct or a
Location argument. Constraints on predicate expressions follow from
the conceptual structures of the constructions. In particular, the
predicator in possessum-object and locative inversion constructions
must express a State, with help from the contributions of particular
aspectual particles such as le and guo.

	The study shows that an elaborate semantic theory, embedded
within a parallel architecture (as manifested in Construction Grammar,
for example), offers a more adequate solution to the non-canonical
argument structure phenomena discussed in this dissertation than
approaches that adopt a syntactocentric outlook. Thus by virtue of
the research reported here a valuable alternative is offered to the
syntactic approaches in the formal studies of Mandarin Chinese.
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