LINGUIST List 7.1780

Mon Dec 16 1996

Sum: Verb Classes

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. Adrian Clynes, Summary of responses: 12,000 verb classes

Message 1: Summary of responses: 12,000 verb classes

Date: Mon, 16 Dec 1996 08:59:20 +0800
From: Adrian Clynes <>
Subject: Summary of responses: 12,000 verb classes

A couple of weeks ago I posted the following query:

> I'm trying to trace a paper which argued something to the effect that
> if you looked closely at the syntactic behaviour of English verbs, you
> end up with 'about 12,000' different verb classes rather than, say,
> 'transitive verbs' vs 'intransitive'. I think it was published in
> Language in the late 70's. I'd be grateful if you can help me track
> down that article, or similar work.

> Even better would be similar
> argumentation applying to the structure of the lexicon: _against_ the
> view that (say in English, but the language doesn't matter) with
> respect to constraint domains, the lexicon can be neatly partitioned
> into 'native lexis', 'romance loanwords', 'germanic loans', 'greek
> loans', and so on. With thanks,

There were several responses to the first part of the query, but none
to the second part - though it's never too late!

My thanks to the following people for their help: Peter Paul, Rebecca
Wheeler, Ellen Prince, Daniel Bouchard, Peter Daniels, Peter
Svenonius, Jan Anward, Brian Ulicny, Paul Hirschbuhler, Marina
Yaguello, Jorge Baptista

Many of those who responded mentioned work by Maurice Gross and Beth
Levin. Here are some edited responses:

The argument you seem to be refering to reminds me a lot of a well
known example from Maurice Gross (Paris 7 / LADL) and his team's work
on french verbs. Starting from aproximatly 6000 frequent verbs, they
arrived at a number of 12.000 different lexical entries, organized in
a few dozens of formal classes. Considerring their syntactic
properties, each verb, even inside a single class, presented formal
differences from their neibouring entries. I believe an abstract of
this can be read at Gross, Maurice. 1988, Methods and Tactics in the
construction of a lexicon-grammar. Linguistic in the Morning Calm
2. Proceedings from SICOL. Seoul: Hanshin Pub. Co. Gross,
Maurice. 1988, Methods and Tactics in the construction of a
lexicon-grammar. Linguistic in the Morning Calm 2. Proceedings from
SICOL. Seoul: Hanshin Pub. Co.

Their main works reagarding verbs are:

Gross, Maurice. 1975. Methodes en sintaxe. Paris: Hermann
Gross, Maurice. 1968. Grammaire tranformationnelle du francais: syntaxe
du verbe.Paris: Cantilene (2nd ed.- 1986)
Boons, Guillet & Leclere.1976a. La structure des phrases simples en
francais: les constructions transitives.(Rapport de Recherches du LADL)
Paris : LADL.
Boons, Guillet & Leclere.1976b. La structure des phrases simples en
francais: les constructions intransitives. Paris: Droz
Guillet & Leclere.1992. La structure des phrases simples en francais: les
constructions transitives-locatives. Paris:Droz.

Jorge Baptista

A similar claim has been made by Maurice Gross concerning French Verbs
in Grammaire transformationnelle du fran=E7ais:le verbe, Paris:
Larousse, 1968

Marina Yaguello

What you mention is very much in the spirit of the work developed by
the French linguist Maurice Gross and collaborators at the LADL
(Laboratoire d'automatique documentaire et de linguistique), starting
around 1970 and still going on.

Paul Hirschbuhler
U. of Ottawa.

I don't know the paper that argues for 12000 English verb classes, but
for a survey of English verb classes that goes well beyond transitive
and intransitive, you should look to Beth Levin's book "English Verb
Classes and Alternations" U of Chicago Press, 1993. Levin's survey
contains about 48 basic verb classes, with up to 10 subclasses of
these, and up to 10 subsubclasses possible for each subclass. These
possibilities are mostly unoccupied, however. For other argumentation
about how many verb classes are possible given Levin's scheme, you
might look at some of Doug Jones' papers at his homepage:

Brian Ulicny
- ----------------------------------------------------

The article you want is probably Maurice Gross's On the Failure of
Generative Grammar, Lg 1979 (I think). See also Beth Levin's book
English Verb Classes and Alternations, U of Chicago Press 1993.

Jan Anward

That type of argument certainly was advanced by Maurice GROSS in his
M=E9thodes en syntaxe (Paris: Hermann; 1975) and implicitly also in D
J ALLERTON Valency and the English Verb (London: Academic Pr; 1982);
not to forget the many different Verb Patterns presented by A S HORNBY
(as reflected inter alia in his Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary
of Current English: Oxford: OUP; 1974 [these have now been revised in
presentation, i.e. formalism, in the later editions])

I'd be interested in feedback on what else you find in this area.
Meanwhile would you be willing to give me feedback on cases where
there appear to be major differences in the way in which events are
encoded in any local languages and English, both in terms of case
roles and/or structure? (An example would be English *Jean [s] misses
Adam [o]* vs French *Adam[s] manque =E0 Jeanne[o]*.)

Peter Paul <>
- -----------------------------------------------------------

you have seen, I assume, Beth Levin's book English Verb Classes and
Alternations, 1993, U. Chicago Press? She identifies some oh, 200 verb
classes relying on syntactic alternations to do so. Then there's my
work published at the Chicago Linguistics Society: Wheeler, Rebecca
S. 1995b. "Beyond 'try to find': the syntax and semantics
 of 'search' and 'analyze'." Papers from the Chicago Linguistic Society

And then my paper observing that Levin's methodology must be refined if we
 are to identify coherent classes:
Wheeler, Rebecca S. (forthcoming), "Will the real search verbs please stand
up?" CLS 32. to come out this fall.

Rebecca Wheeler
- -----------------------------------------------------------

A somewhat similar argumentation, with an added semantic perspective, is
found in the following:
Ruhl, Charles (1989), On Monosemy: A Study in Linguistic Semantics.
Albany: State University of New York Press. [On English verbs]
Bouchard, Denis (1995), The Semantics of Syntax. Chicago: The University
of Chicago Press. [Mostly on french, with much discussion of general
issues that this raises]

Denis Bouchard -
That sounds like something Jim McCawley would have said, but I think
his only appearance in Language was "English as a VSO Language," not
an article one would be proud of! (It seemed to me the basic argument
was that if you say English is a VSO language, then it looks more like
"Polish notation" in symbolic logic!)

Try his *50,000,000 Theories of Grammar* (some collected articles) and
his "Unsyntax," which was in a Milwaukee Symposium volume from the late
1970s, probably edited by Jessica Wirth.

And of course come to Chicago for his LSA Presidential Address the first
week in January!

Peter Daniels

I believe that it is somewhere in *Linguistics and English Grammar*
(sorry, I don't have the book handy) that Gleason makes the claim
that, in spite the traditional view, French has well over 80 verb
classes, not four. I think he's got a good point. Of course, he's
paying attention to a large amount of data, with little if any picking
and choosing, something that seems to have fallen out of fashion

As for your second point, I believe that Bloomfield points out in
*Language* that, if it were not for the fact that Herodotus mentions that
'hemp' was borrowed from one of the 'barbarian tribes', there would be no
other way to determine that it was *not* a native Indo-European word.

George Aubin


Many thanks to all who responded for your much appreciated help!

Adrian Clynes
Dept of English & Applied Linguistics		
Universiti Brunei Darussalam, Brunei					
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