LINGUIST List 3.229

Sat 07 Mar 1992

Disc: Selectional Restrictions

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  1. Eric Schiller, Re: 3.176 Semantics, Selectional Restrictions

Message 1: Re: 3.176 Semantics, Selectional Restrictions

Date: Tue, 25 Feb 92 17:10:22 CSRe: 3.176 Semantics, Selectional Restrictions
From: Eric Schiller <schillertira.uchicago.edu>
Subject: Re: 3.176 Semantics, Selectional Restrictions

Dick Hudson is absolutely correct in pointing out that very
little work on these sorts of selectional restrictions is
done in many of the frameworks cited. My point is that I find
no mechanical reason why such restrictions cannot be implemented,
if one broadens the number and types of semantic categories,
and allow a bit of cog-sci, especially metaphor, to kick in.
We all know a "fresser" or two who is otherwise human, don't we?

But creating a set of categories which will get everything right
will be difficult for ANY theory, as Lakoff (1987), among many
others, has pointed out.

Why haven't GB'ers and other alphabetically oriented theories
come up with an explicit account of these restrictions? I think it
has more to do with the value these linguists place on getting
the semantics right (and explicit) than on the difficulty of
implementation. we all know that it is more important to fine tune
the notion of F-command and Pluto-marking than to account for
real world use of language, don't we?

I think that this issue bridges an unfilled gap between cog-sci
and formalist approaches to linguistic theory, one which Bill
Croft has been looking at from a typological standpoint. The
interaction of real-world semantics with natural language does
not have a clear place in most theories (including my preferred
Autolexical approach), but to the extent that they are
grammaticalized it is important to develop such a link.

There is no need for partisanship on this issue, though,
because I cannot see how any contemporary theory is prohibited
from implementing such a programme. Anyone who gets down and
dirty with real language data is aware of these phenomena, but
few take up the challenge of developing formal accounts.

In particular, no one has yet come up with a clear and coherent
(or even muddy and loose) formal account of Expressives in
Southeast Asian languages (see Diffloth 1972, 76, 79 for the data,
also reprinted in the Best of CLS (1988). I have struggled with
this over the years - with only a few preliminary results to
date.

What a wonderful thesis this topic would make, if there is
anyone out there willing to do the work.

Eric Schiller
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