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LINGUIST List 24.1620

Tue Apr 09 2013

Diss: Cognitive Science/Linguistic Theories/Pragmatics/Psycholing/Semantics/Text/Corpus Ling/Chinese, Mandarin/English/Spanish: Rissman: 'Event Participant Representations and the Instrumental Role...'

Editor for this issue: Lili Xia <lxialinguistlist.org>

Date: 09-Apr-2013
From: Lilia Rissman <lilrissmangmail.com>
Subject: Event Participant Representations and the Instrumental Role: A cross-linguistic study
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Institution: Johns Hopkins University
Program: Department of Cognitive Science
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2013

Author: Lilia Rissman

Dissertation Title: Event Participant Representations and the Instrumental Role: A cross-linguistic study

Linguistic Field(s): Cognitive Science
                            Linguistic Theories
                            Text/Corpus Linguistics

Subject Language(s): Chinese, Mandarin (cmn)
                            English (eng)
                            Spanish (spa)

Dissertation Director:
Kyle Rawlins
Barbara Landau

Dissertation Abstract:

We represent events as composed of participants. In Joan was eating lasagna
in the lecture hall, for example, this eating event is 'partitioned' into participants,
including at least Joan, the lasagna, and the lecture hall. In this dissertation, I
address two questions about events and the participants that populate them:
first, to what extent do we represent event participants as tokens of abstract
roles such as Agent? Second, what is the role of the verb in partitioning events
into participants? I address these questions through the case study of
instrumental participants, as in Joan was eating lasagna with a fork. In a
comparison of the semantic properties of instrumental with and use, I argue that
Instrument is not a semantic primitive, but that with and use each encode
different instrumental properties. Specifically, with requires that the instrument
be part of a minimal instance of an event, whereas use specifies that acting on
the instrument satisfies the agent's goals. I then address whether verbs such as
slice require that events of this type contain an instrument, and whether this
requirement indicates that an instrument is an argument of slice. In a novel
experimental task, subjects reported their judgments about verbs and the event
participants they require. The results from this experiment suggest that
instruments are not arguments, but that properties of verbal meaning bias the
agent to be interpreted as having subparts. In a second set of studies, I
investigated the cross-linguistic generality of these findings. Although the
instrument does not appear to be an argument of slice, there may be languages
where a verb with a similar meaning as slice does have an instrument argument.
To test this hypothesis, I conducted the judgment study described above with
speakers of Spanish and Mandarin. The results were strikingly similar across
English, Spanish and Mandarin, suggesting that in this domain, concepts about
events correspond to language-specific lexicalizations in uniform ways. These
studies converge on the same broad understanding of the nature of the
instrumental role: a participant that is an extension of the agent.

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