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LINGUIST List 21.4260

Tue Oct 26 2010

Diss: Semantics/Syntax: Coppock: 'The Logical and Empirical ...'

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        1.     Elizabeth Coppock , The Logical and Empirical Foundations of Baker's Paradox

Message 1: The Logical and Empirical Foundations of Baker's Paradox
Date: 24-Oct-2010
From: Elizabeth Coppock <eecoppockgmail.com>
Subject: The Logical and Empirical Foundations of Baker's Paradox
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Institution: Stanford University
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2009

Author: Elizabeth Coppock

Dissertation Title: The Logical and Empirical Foundations of Baker's Paradox

Dissertation URL: http://www.eecoppock.info/dissertation.html

Linguistic Field(s): Semantics
                            Syntax

Dissertation Director:
Beth Levin
Eve V Clark
Arnold M. Zwicky
Daniel S Jurafsky
Ivan A Sag

Dissertation Abstract:

My dissertation addresses questions of syntactic productivity of the
following form: Based on independent (e.g. semantic) properties of a given
word, can it be predicted whether the word may occupy a given syntactic
position? For example, can it be predicted from the meaning of 'disappear'
that it cannot function transitively (*He disappeared the rabbit)?

Such questions pertain to the empirical foundations of Baker's Paradox
(Pinker 1989, after Baker 1979), which comprises the following premises:
(i) Productivity: An infinite number of items can, in principle,
instantiate a given syntactic pattern (so long as they satisfy certain
criteria); (ii) Arbitrariness: Certain items fail to instantiate the
pattern despite meeting the criteria; (iii) No Negative Evidence: Evidence
for ungrammaticality is not used in language acquisition. The main focus
is on questioning premise (ii).

Questioning the premise of arbitrariness is important, because it has
consequences for the theory of language learning. Besides potentially
leading to a paradox, the existence of arbitrary exceptions has been taken
as evidence that the learner is both conservative and attentive (Culicover
1999). Arbitrary exceptions have also served as evidence for the role of
statistical preemption and item-specific learning in acquisition (Goldberg
2006; Bowerman and Croft 2008; Wonnacott et al 2008).

Although it has consequences for learning, arbitrariness is a purely
linguistic claim. Consider the causative alternation ('John broke the
glass' vs. 'The glass broke'). Its productivity is governed by certain
semantic criteria, but Bowerman and Croft (2008) claim that 'there are
verbs that satisfy the [criteria] and yet do not alternate', such as
'totter'. Analogous claims have been made for the dative alternation
(Wonnacott et al 2008: 'John donated a car to the church' vs. *'John
donated the church a car'), preposition pied-piping and stranding
(Culicover 1999: 'This is the bridge from/*off which she jumped'; 'What
class did you fall asleep in/*during?'), and the positioning of adjectives
(Goldberg 2006: 'She is a sweet/mere child' vs. 'She is sweet/*mere').

Addressing each of these domains individually, I show that under close
inspection, the facts can be explained based on general criteria limiting
the productivity of the relevant patterns. The first step is to identify
the criteria; then it is necessary to determine whether the items in
question fit the criteria. A word is an arbitrary exception if it fits the
criteria, yet fails to instantiate the pattern.

In some cases, good criteria have already been identified, and it is only a
matter of finding a way to apply them. In other cases, I identify new
criteria. In the chapter on adjectives, for example, I propose the
Predicativity Principle: An adjective is syntactically predicative iff it
is semantically predicative (for a definition of semantic predicativity
that includes gradable adjectives such as 'tall'). Thus 'mere child' is
grammatical but not *'The child is mere', with 'mere' in a syntactically
predicative position, because it is not semantically predicative. One
argument comes from sentence-level adverbs like 'obviously' ('obviously
sweet child' vs. *'obviously mere child').

For each item that has been claimed to be an arbitrary exception in the
domains considered, I argue that it is not. This removes much of the
linguistic argument for item-specific learning. I suggest the
explanation-seeking learner as an alternative model: the learner prefers
general explanations over arbitrary stipulations.



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