LINGUIST List 5.97

Thu 27 Jan 1994

Sum: Transformations

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  1. a mcelligott, summary on transformations

Message 1: summary on transformations

Date: Fri, 21 Jan 1994 13:03:33 summary on transformations
From: a mcelligott <mcelligottaul.ie>
Subject: summary on transformations


Thank you all for replying to my query.
The following is a list of summaries received.

 From: robert westmoreland <rwestmorsilver.ucs.indiana.edu>

Like many people, I find _The wall was sprayed with paint_ tends to imply that
the much of the wall was covered with paint, wheras _John sprayed paint on the
wall_ would be appropriate even if there was only a fleck of paint on the
wall.
 ---------------------------------------------------------------
 From: Randy Allen Harris <rahawatarts.uwaterloo.ca>

You may get some very interesting responses to this, since it was an
earth-shattering topic for several years, and I hope you'll either post a
summary of the responses to the list or perhaps gather them in a file to
send to interested spectators (of which I am one).

For me, there is a difference.

 John sprayed paint on the wall

just means that he sprayed some paint on the way (accidentally,
malisciously, whatever). But
The wall was sprayed with paint by John

means that he was up to something specific.

Early TG would probably also have derived (though I'm only aware of work on
compound nouns, not compound verbs)

 John spray-painted the wall

which means (to me) that he deliberately, systematically, painted the
entire wall using a spray gun.
 ------------------------------------------------------
 From: hagstromMIT.EDU

There does indeed seem to be a semantic difference concerning the extent to
which the wall was sprayed. In the first case ("John sprayed paint on the
wall"), you don't get the feeling that the wall was necessarily fully painted,
while in the second ("The wall was sprayed with paint by John"), you do.
Another similar verb is "load" as in:

 a. Hay was loaded onto the truck.
 b. The truck was loaded with hay.

In b., above, the truck's end state is full, while in a., there is no such
implication. This is discussed briefly in Pesetsky's _Zero Syntax_
chapter 5,
Another similar verb is "load" as in:

 a. Hay was loaded onto the truck.
 b. The truck was loaded with hay.

In b., above, the truck's end state is full, while in a., there is no such
implication. This is discussed briefly in Pesetsky's _Zero Syntax_
chapter 5,
and he made reference to Levin, B. (1993), _English Verb Classes and
Alternations_ (U of Chicago press) and Pinker, S. (1989), _Learnability and
Cognition: the Aquisition of Argument Structure_ (MIT Press).

As far as the status of transformations leaving semantics unaffected, I don't
have any particular reference to point to (though I believe the hypothesis
stating that this is the case was due to Katz and Postal 1964?), but it
doesn't
seem to be generally assumed to be true around here. Hopefully, someone else
on LINGUIST will have a better reference for you to look at. One thing that
somewhat addresses this issue is Lakoff (1968), "Instrumental Adverbs and
the Concept of Deep Structure" in _Foundations of Language_, 4, 4-29.
 -------------------------------------------------------------
 From: Stephen P Spackman <spackmandfki.uni-sb.de>

I'd say that your sentences have different *meanings*. It is an
interesting fact that the word "semantics" has drifted to the point that
 - at least with some practitioners - there's no recognisable connection
left with meaning at all! :-)
 ------------------------------------------------------------
 From: BROADWELL GEORGE AARON <gb661csc.albany.edu>

 I'm sure you'll get a lot of messages pointing this out, but
the sentences you listed:

 (From memory)

 They sprayed paint on the wall.
 The wall was sprayed with paint.

aren't related to each other by the passive. The second example is
the passive of They sprayed the wall with paint.

As for the relation between

 They sprayed paint on the wall
 They sprayed the wall with paint

the general claim in that `the wall' is more affected when it is the
direct object. There's a reasonably extensive literature about this
alternation (often called the "spray/load" alternation). Beth Levin's
book *English verb classes and alternations* might be a good place to
look for references.

(As for the idea that transformations don't change meaning, no one has
believed this for a decade, so far as I know...)
 -----------------------------------------------------------
 From: Larry Trask <larrytcogs.susx.ac.uk>

First, the passive you cite is not the passive of the active you
cite. There are two active constructions:

 John sprayed paint on the wall.
 John sprayed the wall with paint.

Your passive is the passive of the second of these; the first has its
own passive:

 Paint was sprayed on the wall by John.

The verbs that show this behaviour are called `spray/load' verbs.

Your passive is the passive of the second of these; the first has its
own passive:

 Paint was sprayed on the wall by John.

The verbs that show this behaviour are called `spray/load' verbs.
They were first discussed, as far as I know, in

 C. Fillmore (1968), `The case for case', E. Bach and R. T. Harms
 (eds), Universals in Linguistic Theory, New York: North-Holland,
 pp. 1-88.

A more substantial discussion, including (if I remember correctly)
some treatment of the semantic difference (if any) is

 B. Levin and M. Rapaport (1986), `The formation of adjectival
 passives', LI 17:623-661.
As to whether there is a semantic difference, most speakers do feel a
difference in at least some cases:

 John loaded the wagon with hay.
 John loaded hay onto the wagon.

Most people, I think, are inclined to think that the first of these,
but not the second, implies that the wagon was completely filled with
hay, or at least is more likely to mean this.
difference in at least some cases:

 John loaded the wagon with hay.
 John loaded hay onto the wagon.

Most people, I think, are inclined to think that the first of these,
but not the second, implies that the wagon was completely filled with
hay, or at least is more likely to mean this.
 -----------------------------------------------------------
 From: Richard Wojcik <rwojcikgrace.rt.cs.boeing.com>

You have probably already received this comment from others, but in case you
haven't:

The passive of "John sprayed paint on the wall" is
 "Paint was sprayed on the wall by John."

The active of "The wall was sprayed with paint by John" is
 "John sprayed the wall with paint."

Stephen Anderson published a paper back in the 70's explaining the
difference in meaning between "spray paint on the wall" and "spray the
wall with paint". It said roughly that the direct object position receives
a kind of "holistic" interpretation. If you say "spray the wall with paint",
you imply that the entire wall was covered. If you say "spray paint on the
wall", you imply that all of the paint ended up on the wall.
 ---------------------------------------------------------
 From: ggaleVAX1.UMKC.EDU

The first sentence is totally unambiguous.
The second sentence seems to have the possibility of ambiguity.
[i.e., the paint is by John, the spraying isn't.]

I find it natural to assume that
 John sprayed paint on the wall.
indicates that a portion of the wall was covered whereas
 The wall was sprayed with paint by John.
either suggests that the entire wall was sprayed or that the act of
spraying was somehow remarkable.
 ---------------------------------------------------------
 From: LROSENWALDLUCY.WELLESLEY.EDU

For what it's worth, from a literary critic rather than a linguist -
yes, I think there are "semantic" differences between the two utterances.
1) "on the wall," in the first sentence, seems likely to mean, "in places
on the wall but not all over it" (the second possibility seems to me
to require "John spray-painted the wall"); the second sentence seems
to me to include the possibility of the wall's being painted in its
entirety. 2) It's just barely possible, in the second sentence, to
think of "of John" as classifying the sort of paint rather than indicating
the agent of the action (as in, the room was decorated with furniture
by Chippendale); it's obviously impossible to conjure up this possibility
in the first sentence.
 ------------------------------------------------------
 From: "John E. Koontz" <koontzalpha.bldr.nist.gov>

Yes, there are differences in meaning between:

John sprayed paint on the wall.

John sprayed the wall with paint.

The paint was sprayed on the wall by John.

The wall was sprayed with paint by John.

Analogous differences occur with:

John gave the book to Mary.

John gave Mary the book.

The book was given to Mary by John.

Mary was given the book by John.

The differences have to do with which NPs are salient, which NP is construed
as wholely effected, etc.

Recognition of this problem was one of the reasons for the near disappearence
of transformations from Choskian theories of grammar, I believe.
 -----------------------------------------------------------------------
 From: Jeff Lansing <lansingcogsci.UCSD.EDU>

I'm sure you'll get a number of different answers to your question; my
opinion is that these answers will depend on the assumptions which
the respondees have made on the following issues:

What is "meaning"?
What is semantics? (or a "semantic", if there are such things?)
What is the connection between meaning and semantics?
Does "semantic difference" mean
 i) difference in reference?
 ii) difference in what is indicated?
 iii) difference in purpose or function?
How does language connect to the world? What, if anything, is it that's
out there that gets connected to? If it's facts, then what are they?
Are facts themselves about objects? (If so, then your first sentence
could be described as indicating a fact about John, while your
"transformed" sentence could be described as indicating a fact
about a wall.)
 ----------------------------------------------------------------
 From: "Elizabeth A. Cain" <Elizabeth.A.CainDartmouth.EDU>

Position of words in the sentance do seem to lend meaning, as in this example
of alternate NPs functioning as the subject.
One might say that in the first sentance the emphasis was placed on the
actor, John, while in the second the wall was of higher importance - thus
the two sentances do have different meanings.
 ---------------------------------------------------------
 From: "Richard C. DeArmond" <richard_de_armondsfu.ca>

The two sente3nces are not transformationally related. The passive one
comes from <

John prayed the wall with paint.

You are right; the two sentences you mentioned are not semantically
equivaletnt. Fillmore first noticed this around 1967 in Case for Case, I
think.
 -----------------------------------------------------------
 From: coonCVAX.IPFW.INDIANA.EDU

There is a difference for me.
J. sprayed paint on ... implies purposefulness, i.e. he was painting.
The wall was ... does not imply the act of painting but implies s.t.
more random.
I am a native speaker of English, Midwestern USA, Chicago dialect area.
 ----------------------------------------------------------------
 From: Steven Schaufele <fcoswsux1.cso.uiuc.edu>

I would say there's a *pragmatic* difference, in that the two sentences
making the same claim but focussing on different entities. The passive
sentence is definitely talking primarily about the wall. The active one is
more neutral, though it may in certain contexts be used to talk
specifically about John, or about the action of spraying paint. I don't
think this constitutes a *semantic* difference. But there may be some
difference of opinion as to what constitutes a semantic difference.
 ------------------------------------------------------
 From: Beth Levin <bethlex.ling.nwu.edu>

Most of the literature on spray/load verbs has focused on the nature of
the relation between the following pair:

John sprayed paint on the wall
John sprayed the wall with paint.

The second sentence you cited, "The wall was sprayed with paint by
John", would simply be viewed as being the passive version of the second
sentence above.

There is a large literature on such pairs of sentences, including
several papers that argue for a difference in meaning between them. Due
to this, a number of researchers have argued against a transformational
analysis of these sentences. In work with Malka Rappaport Hovav, I have
argued for attributing distinct meanings to the two variants, with the
relationship between them being one that is stated in terms of their the
lexical semantic representations.

For a long list of references on this alternation, see the section on
the locative alternation in my book "English Verb Classes and
Alternations". Among the papers that explicitly discuss the meanings of
such pairs see:

Anderson, S.R. (1977) "Comments on the Paper by Wasow," in P.
Culicover, A. Akmajian, and T. Wasow, eds., Formal Syntax, Academic
Press, New York, 361-377.

Jeffries, L. and P. Willis (1984) "A Return to the Spray Paint Issue,"
Journal of Pragmatics 8, 715-729.

Rappaport, M. and B. Levin (1988) "What to Do with Theta-Roles", in
W. Wilkins, ed., Syntax and Semantics 21: Thematic Relations,
Academic Press, New York, NY, 7-36.

Schwartz-Norman, L. (1976) "The Grammar of `Content' and `Container'",
Journal of Linguistics 12, 279-287.
 -------------------------------------------------------------
 From: guy <GMODICAJPNNUCBA.BITNET>

Well, there are four sentences to be considered in the discussion of
"spray/load" verbs.

Pat sprayed paint on the wall
Pat sprayed the wall with paint
The wall was sprayed with paint
Paint was sprayed on the wall

When WALL appears as the object (overt or underlying), most speakers agree
that
the wall is completely covered by the paint. The object in toto receives the
action denoted in the verb. When PAINT is the object (ditto), the active and
passive are interpreted as involving (necessarily) only a portion of the wall.
(An interesting related question: would you say ALL the paint is sprayed?)

The two sentences you mention SHOULD have different semantic values, because
the underlying object is different in each sentence. But if you compare
sentences with equivalent underlying objects, most informants should report
semantic equivalence.

I assume your interest is to test passivization for evidence of a semantic
shift, but I don't think the examples make such a good test in this case.
BY the way, I am assuming that passivization involves a transformation, and
that the deep object of a passive becomes the subject in the surface string.

More by the way, there are tests involving quantified noun phrases that do
appear to support a semantic shift.

No one kissed every blarney stone
Every blarney stone was kissed by no one

Whadaya think, does this active/passive pair maintain the same semantic value?

I love to chat on the electronic highway; hope to hear from you.
 ---------------------------------------------------
 From: Penny Lee <edplcc.flinders.edu.au>

Yes, there's a semantic difference, one which needs to be taught to
learners of English as a second or further language for instance because it
has considerable import in certain contexts, e.g. scientific writing.
Ronald Langacker's Cognitive Grammar is probably a good place to start in
thinking about what kind of semantic difference this is. Regards,

Dr P. Lee, School of Education (SSS), Flinders University, GPO Box 2100,
Adelaide, SA 5001. Australia. Phone 08 201 2059. Fax 08 201 2634.
 ---------------------------------------------------------
 From: Larry Bouton <LARBOUTvmd.cso.uiuc.edu>

I was interested in your question because it seems to get tangled up in an
enigma that I have never been able to resolve. If we focus only on pairs of
sentences like those two, I don't think that you can answer the question you
ask. The problem is that without other evidence, any argument would be circu-
lar, it seems to me, for the following reasons:

1. You have assumed that the two sentences - *John sprayed paint on the wall*
 and *The wall was sprayed with paint by John* - were transformationally
 related. And the assumption is that if they are not synonymous, then
 transformations do not maintain meaning.

2. For me, the sentences are not synonymous. *The wall was sprayed with
 paint by John* can mean that John spray painted the whole wall, while *John
 sprayed paint on the wall* seems to mean that he sprayed some part of the
 wall with paint - perhaps with graffiti. Perhaps the second sentence can
 also mean that he sprayed paint on the whole wall, but I don't think that
 the first can mean that John prayed only part of the wall. Or, at the
 very least, the first meaning that comes to mind from the first (passive)
 sentence is the that the whole wall is painted and for the other, it
 is the graffiti (or whatever) meaning. And so the two sentences do not
 seem equivalent. And transformations do not seem to maintain meaning.

3. But that is only if these two sentences really are transformationally
 related. Unless there are some other solid arguments for linking the two
 that can be supported independent of the meaning maintenance
 consideration, we certainly cannot decide a such an important issue on the
 basis these examples. I know that Quirk, Greenbaum, etc., assume the
 sentences to be related, but I have never seen any comprehensive
 justification for that assumption.

 My hesitation to accept them as transformationally related is made
 stronger I think, by the fact that another active sentence, *John sprayed
 the wall with paint*, does seem to have the same meaning as the passive
 example you give.

4. From these comments, it seems that if we assume that your two examples are
 transformations, then transformations do not keep meaning constant. If, on
 the other hand, we assume that your passive is related to the second
 active (my example) by not yours, then perhaps transformations do keep
 meaning constant. As I said above, without strong justification for
 relating your two sentences transformationally, nothing can be decided
 here.

 In fact, wouldn't your active sentence be more closely related to *Paint
 was sprayed on the wall* - which IS ambiguous (or ambivalent) and can be
 followed by either *...wherever there were rust spots* or *...to cover all
 the grime and rust spots.*
 -------------------------------------------------------------
 From: MONTAGUEollamh.ucd.ie

This is not a simple problem. Really the main differenceis in the
emphasis, the first emphasises John and the second the wall.
The argument structure is the same, so I guess that this is
in the realm of pragmatics rather than semantics. The meanings
are subtly different. Well, maybe someone else will be able to help
you out some more, since this is not exactly my field of study.

 ______________________________________

 Annette McElligott, CSIS Dept., University of Limerick, Ireland.
 Tel: +353 61 333644 ext. 5024; Fax: +353 61 330876
 Email: mcelligoitdsrv1.ul.ie or mcelligottaul.ie

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