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Raciolinguistics

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Sociolinguistics from the Periphery

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Academic Paper


Title: The 'Key' to Lexical Semantic Representations
Jean-Pierre Koenig
Email: click here TO access email
Homepage: http://wings.buffalo.edu/soc-sci/linguistics/people/koenig/koenig.shtml
Institution: University at Buffalo
Author: Anthony R. Davis
Email: click here TO access email
Homepage: http://www-csli.stanford.edu/users/tdavis/
Institution: Stanford University
Linguistic Field: Semantics; Syntax
Abstract: It is widely accepted that the semantic content of a lexical entry determines to a large extent its syntactic subcategorization or other contexts of occurrence. However, clarifying the precise extent to which this hypothesis holds has proven difficult and on occasion controversial. To maintain this hypothesis, scholars have in many difficult cases introduced syntactic diacritics in their lexical semantic representations, thereby running the risk of rendering it vacuous. Our answer to this challenge is two-fold. First, on the substantive side, we argue that the problem lies in the assumption that the semantic content of lexical entries consists of a recursive predicate-argument structure. In contrast, we claim that the semantic content of lexical entries can consist of a set of such structures, thus eschewing semantically unmotivated predicates that merely ensure the correct semantic geometry. Second, on the structural side, we suggest that the semantic content of words can idiosyncratically select one of those predicate-argument structures for the purposes of direct grammatical function assignment. We show that this hypothesis, which builds on independently motivated proposals regarding the form of underspecified natural language semantic representations, provides a clean account of linking phenomena related to several classes of predicators: verbs whose denotata require the presence of an instrument, the semantic role of French 'adjunct' clitics, commercial event verbs, the spray/load alternations, and lexical subordination constructions.

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This article appears IN Journal of Linguistics Vol. 42, Issue 1.

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