LINGUIST List 23.4022

Fri Sep 28 2012

Review: Semantics; Syntax: Croft (2012)

Editor for this issue: Anja Wanner <>

Date: 28-Sep-2012
From: Peter Arkadiev <>
Subject: Verbs
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AUTHOR: William CroftTITLE: VerbsSUBTITLE: Aspect and Causal StructurePUBLISHER: Oxford University PressYEAR: 2012

Peter M. Arkadiev, Institute of Slavic Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences,Moscow


The new book by William Croft has been awaited by the linguistic community formore than a decade, some preliminary chapters of it having appeared on theauthor's website as early as in 2000. The book itself stems from and hinges uponWilliam Croft's work on argument structure and verbal semantics dating back to theearly 1980s. In this book Croft summarizes his ideas about the structure of eventsand argument expression, which have been familiar to the linguistic audience atleast since Croft 1991 and have been further developed in his later publications suchas Croft 1998, and presents a fully-fledged general theory of event structure.However, the book under review is by no means just an elaboration and summary ofolder ideas, but contains a detailed and coherent presentation of a largely novel andpromising theoretical framework coupled with an insightful analysis of a rich body ofdata (mainly from English), as well as an illuminating critical discussion of many ofthe existing approaches to event structure and argument realization. Though theconceptual basis of the book is shaped by the "functional" cognitive linguistic trendof thought (in particular, Construction Grammar), Croft bases many of his insightsand proposals on the results achieved in the "formal" grammatical frameworks, andespecially acknowledges the impact of Levin & Rappaport Hovav (2005) on thedevelopment of his ideas (p. xiii). The book is dedicated to the memory of MelissaBowerman (1942-2011).

The main body of the book consists of nine chapters. In the first chapter("Introduction", pp. 1-30), the main problems discussed in the book, viz. verbalmeaning and its relation to the realization of arguments and to constructions inwhich verbs appear, are presented together with a brief discussion of the majortypes of existing approaches to semantics, among which Croft chooses theCognitive Grammar approach with its geometrical diagrammatic representations.(Here it is worth noting that graphic representations play a very important role in thebook, which necessarily means that some important aspects of Croft's theorycannot be adequately reflected in the review.) Other issues tackled in theintroduction include the cognitive linguistic notions of frame and construal (the latterunderstood as language-particular structuring of the extralinguistic experience insemantic terms) and the problem of grammatical relations and constructions.Following his own earlier work (e.g. Croft 2001), Croft proposes to abandon thenotion of "global" grammatical relations such as subject, object etc. in favour ofconstruction-specific grammatical relations, which may be different both acrosslanguages and across different constructions within one language.

Chapters 2-4 mainly deal with aspectological issues. In chapter 2 ("The aspectualstructure of events", pp. 31-69) Croft discusses the existing approaches to theclassification of event types ("lexical aspect") and points out their empiricalproblems and conceptual drawbacks. Croft revises the traditional Vendlerianclassification of event types and proposes the following more fine-grained system(p. 45 and section 2.4.1):a. Four types of states: inherent (permanent) states ("be Polish"), acquiredpermanent states ("be cracked"), transitory states ("be ill"), and point states ("it is 5o'clock").b. Two types of activities: directed activities (for "degree achievements" such as "tocool") vs. undirected activities ("to walk").c. Two types of achievements: reversible achievements ("the door opened twice")vs. irreversible achievements ("the mouse died (*twice)").d. Two types of accomplishments: incremental accomplishments ("to write a letter")vs. non-incremental accomplishments ("to repair a computer").e. Cyclic achievements (semelfactives, "to cough").

As a formal framework for the analysis of aspectual types Croft proposes a two-dimensional geometric representation involving the temporal and the qualitative axesand modeling the presence and type of qualitative change as it occurs in time.Alternative aspectual construals of predicates are represented as combinations ofthe aspectual contour of the predicate with the aspectual profiling imposed by thetense-aspect constructions (discussed in chapters 3 and 4). Thus the English"inceptive state" verb "see" implies both a transitory state of seeing profiled by thepresent tense and the punctual event of entering into this state profiled by thesimple past. The two-dimensional geometric representation allows Croft to motivatehis typology of aspectual types, in particular to link three types of states (acquiredpermanent, transitory, and point states) to three types of achievements (denotingentry into these states, viz. irreversible, reversible and cyclic achievements,respectively) and two types of activities (directed and undirected) to two types ofaccomplishments (incremental and non-incremental, respectively).

In chapter 3 ("Change, boundedness, and construal", pp. 70-126), various issuespertaining to the aspectual behaviour of predicates are discussed from a cognitiveviewpoint. Croft starts with the discussion of the notion "directed change", linked tosuch well-known theoretical concepts as "incremental theme" and "scale" andforming an aspectual supercategory encompassing directed achievements, directedactivities and both incremental and non-incremental accomplishments. Further Croftproposes to distinguish between two types of boundedness: qualitative boundedness(q-boundedness) and temporal boundedness (t-boundedness). Q-boundedness isinherent to the lexical semantics of the predicate and corresponds to the familiarnotion of telicity as involving a "natural endpoint" and the result state of an event. T-boundedness implies the profiling of both the initial and the final endpoints of anevent in a particular tense-aspect construction, without indication as to whether theresult state has been achieved or even implied by the aspectual contour of thepredicate. A large part of the chapter (section 3.2) is devoted to the discussion ofthe aspectual construals available to different English verbs, and notably of theways lexical and encyclopedic semantics of predicates affects and constrains theiraspectual potential. In this section the issue of the three existing approaches tomeaning variation (polysemy, derivation and vagueness) is raised for the first time inthe book (see below), and is resolved in favour of a cognitive usage-based approachin which the aspectual potential of the verb depends on "asymmetries in thefrequency of use of one aspectual construal over another" (p. 91). Severalmechanisms of aspectual construal are identified, viz. aspectual selection ormetonymy "found with those predicates that allow either a directed achievementconstrual or a transitory (resulting) state construal" (p. 93), "structuralschematization" found with cyclic achievements (e.g. "The light flashed") construedas undirected activities (e.g. "The light flashed for five minutes"), and "scalaradjustment" involving coarse-grained and fine-grained conceptualizations of thesame event found, e.g., with disposition predicates: the activity construal in "He isbeing polite" is fine-grained whereas the inherent state construal in "He is polite" iscoarse-grained. This latter kind of alternative construal is applicable to variousaspectual types. Special subsections are devoted to an insightful analysis ofauxiliary and adverbial aspectual constructions in English and to a nice account ofaspectual types and aspectual construals of Russian verbs based on secondarydata.

In chapter 4 ("The interaction of grammatical and lexical semantics: quantitative andqualitative analyses", pp. 127-172), Croft approaches the mutual affinities andtensions between lexical and grammatical aspect from both cross-linguistic andlanguage-internal perspective. A re-evaluation of the well-known typology oftemporal-aspectual categories of Dahl 1985 is based on the "multidimensionalscaling" approach to cross-linguistic data (Croft & Poole 2008) and yields some non-trivial results, such as e.g. the existence of a typologically valid presentimperfective cluster and the lack of a sharp cross-linguistic separation betweenperfective and perfect. With respect to the "alignment" of grammatical and lexicalaspect Croft's findings more or less confirm the expectation that qualitativelyunbounded situations (activities and state) would gravitate towards the imperfectivewhile qualitatively bounded situations more often occur with the perfective aspect.The second part of the chapter is devoted to a detailed description of the basictense-aspect constructions of English (Present Tense, Simple Past Tense,Progressive, Perfect) and "of the range of variation in aspectual potential of Englishverbs across" these constructions (pp. 145-164) followed by a multidimensionalscaling analysis of the interaction of lexical and grammatical aspect in English andJapanese (pp. 165-171). It must be said that the role the of Japanese data in thissection is not entirely clear, especially since no genuine Japanese examples areprovided. The major outcome of the analysis is the spatial model of English andJapanese lexical aspect in fig. 4.4 on p. 166 showing a circular arrangement ofmajor aspectual types from transitory states to directed achievements to directedactivities to undirected activities to cyclic achievements to inactive actions andback to transitory states. Croft concludes (p. 169-171) that "theperfective/imperfective distinction in grammatical aspects corresponds to anopposition" (p. 169) of aspectual types involving, respectively, transitory states anddirected achievements, on the one hand, and activities and cyclic achievements, onthe other. These apparent paradoxes are resolved under the assumption (cf.chapters 2 and 3) that state and directed achievement result from different profilingof the common directed aspectual contour, and that cyclic achievement and iterativeand undirected activity are different instantiations of the undirected aspectualcontour.

In chapters 5 and 6 Croft switches to the construction of a force-dynamic theory ofargument realization, expanding his own earlier proposals from Croft 1991 and 1998.Chapter 5 ("Toward a force-dynamic theory of argument realization", pp. 173-219)starts with a critical evaluation of some of the existing approaches to argumentrealization, showing empirical and conceptual problems of theories operating withsemantic (thematic) roles and their hierarchies, as well as limitations of such event-based accounts as Dowty's (1991) proto-role approach. Croft's own proposal hingesupon Talmy's (1988) notion of force-dynamic relations and already mentioned Croft'searlier work. Instead of (generalized) semantic roles and their hierarchies, realizationof arguments such as subject, object and different kinds of obliques is determinedby the causal force-dynamic structure of the event and its profiling by the verbalpredicate. The major innovation to the earlier theory proposed in the book is theintegration of causal and aspectual representations of event structure in atridimensional space where each participant in the event is associated with its ownsubevent characterized by an aspectual contour, and force-dynamic relations linkthese subevents rather than participants themselves. The unity of event is securedby the fact that its subevents, having distinct qualitative dimensions, share acommon temporal axis.

Chapter 6 ("Causal structure in verbal semantics and argument realization", pp. 220-282) elaborates on the theoretical postulates of the previous chapter and explorestheir consequences from a cross-linguistic perspective. A large part of the chapter isdevoted to the discussion of various kinds of construal of predicate relations whicheither are noncausal (spatial and possessive) or show noncanonical (cyclic orbranching) causal chains (mental events, reflexive, reciprocal and comitativesituations). Other issues approaches in this chapter include voice, alignment(accusative, ergative and active), causative and applicative constructions, and adiachronic typology of case syncretisms elaborating on Croft's earlier distinctionbetween two types of oblique semantic relations, which he calls antecedent (thosewhich precede the object in the causal chain, e.g. instrument) and subsequent(those which follow the object in the causal chain, e.g. beneficiary or goal), and thegeneralization that case markers in languages will not conflate relations fromdifferent domains. A tentative conceptual space for participant roles uniting bothcausal and noncausal (spatial and intentional) relations is proposed in fig. 6.2 on p.280.

In chapter 7 ("The interaction of aspect and causal structure in verb meaning", pp.283-319) the force-dynamic theory of argument realization is integrated with thetheory of event structure and aspect developed in chapters 2-4. The overallaspectual type of a complex event consisting of several subevents each with itsown aspectual contour is determined by the following principle (p. 286): "theaspectual type of the overall event is the type of the subevent that ranks highest inthe (…)" Verbal Aspectual Hierarchy : "directed change > undirected change >state." Intralinguistic and cross-linguistic differences in the lexicalization of complexevents are discussed, such as the well-known distinctions between result verbs andmanner verbs and between verb-framing and satellite-framing type of lexicalization,which in Croft's view are largely dependent on the presence of the directed changecomponent in the predicate's semantics. The chapter contains many interestingobservations about the behaviour of different verbs and constructions in English.

The last two chapters of the book are devoted to the interaction of verbal semanticswith different constructions. In chapter 8 ("Complex predicate constructions and thesemantics of simple verbs", pp. 320-357), various kinds of constructions arediscussed which express complex events whose structure exceeds the limitsimposed by the "constraints on the semantic structure of simple verbs --nonbranching causal chain, temporal unity, a single directed change subevent" (p.320). Constructions discussed include the English and Japanese resultativeconstructions, which receive a very detailed and insightful treatment, depictive,serial verb and converb constructions. Croft concludes the chapter by observationthat simple verbs prototypically encode maximally individuated events, a notionlinked to the well-established transitive action prototype (Hopper & Thompson 1980).

In chapter 9 ("Verb meaning and argument structure constructions", pp. 358-393)Croft returns to the issue of the semantic interaction of verbs and argumentstructure constructions and the problem of polysemy, derivation and vaguenessapproaches to this interaction. English ditransitive and locative constructions andverbs appearing in them are analysed in great detail. Croft argues that it is notpossible to completely disentangle the semantic contributions of verbs andconstructions and arrive at their "basic" or "unitary" meanings and that the contrastbetween a lexical rule analysis and a constructional analysis is a false dichotomy(cf. Croft 2003). Instead, Croft proposes to analyze verb-specific and narrow verb-class specific constructions fully specified for particular semantic features and drawgeneralizations from them. A usage-based exemplar model of verb + constructionmeaning is developed on pp. 383-392, which hinges upon token frequency of co-occurrences of particular verbs and constructions.

In the short "Envoy" (pp. 394-395), Croft briefly summarizes the main results of hisstudy and urges the reader that since his argumentation was mostly based on thedata from English, the generalizations proposed must be evaluated against broadcross-linguistic data.

The "Glossary of terms" (pp. 397-407) is a welcome and useful addendum.


Croft's "Verbs" is undoubtedly a very important book for all linguists interested inaspect, event structure, argument realization and verb semantics. The bookdevelops a whole new theory of event structure, comprising many of the core issuesof the semantics-syntax interface, such as constraints on the lexical semanticstructure of simple verbs, linguistic situation types and predicate classes,interaction between lexical and grammatical aspect and between verbal andconstructional semantics, thematic roles and argument realization, voice andvarious complex predicates, polysemy of case markers etc. Though theargumentation is largely based on data from English, the discussion is typologicallywell-informed and in many aspects draws upon cross-linguistic generalizations(including those made by the author himself).

The theory presented in the book is a first coherent and all-encompassingconception of event structure and argument realization in cognitive linguistics,couched in a usage-based constructional approach to semantics and syntax andsophisticated enough to challenge the other existing theories of these phenomena,especially those developed in the "formalist" tradition. Croft can only be praised fordoing justice to competing approaches and for incorporating many of their insightsinto his own conception instead of simply rejecting them as "aprioristic" or"reductionist." The book, in addition to presenting the author's own ideas, containsdetailed and useful summaries and discussions of many of the existing approachesto the phenomena in question, where both strong and weak points of differentproposals as well as their similarities and differences with Croft's own theory arehighlighted. Finally, many pages of the book are devoted to a really illuminatinganalysis of a various English data, ranging from verbal aspect to intricacies ofresultative constructions. All this makes the book a fascinating reading rewardingboth theory-oriented and empirically-oriented audiences.

However, every important contribution to science has some weak points, and Croft'sbook is no exception. My major criticism concerns Croft's failure to take intoaccount some of the important recent (and even not so recent) proposals in thedomain of aspect and event structure, which are in some respects parallel to Croft'sapproach.

In his discussion of aspectual types in chapter 2, Croft ignores the approach toevent types and aspectual classes proposed by Sergei Tatevosov (2002), as well asTatevosov's critical survey of various proposals in this domain. This is indeedunfortunate, since Tatevosov has developed a cross-linguistically applicable non-aprioristic theory of aspectual types allowing to analyze data from any humanlanguage and to arrive at directly comparable results. In addition, several of Croft's"new" aspectual types, such as e.g. "inceptive states", have been alreadyrecognized by Tatevosov as "cross-linguistic actional classes" supported by datafrom many languages. This is also important because Croft's own approach toaspectual types does not seem to be conceptually or methodologically superior toTatevosov's; Croft does not actually explain how his methodology of arriving atevent types and aspectual classes is constrained, whether the event types andaspectual classes he postulated for English can be extended to other languages andhow such an extension can be achieved in a non-circular and non-aprioristic way.This leads him to saying that "there is in fact an indefinitely large number ofpredicate classes each having its own unique aspectual potential or range ofpossible aspectual construals" (p. 57), which is not a very desirable result, sincelinguistic theory must instead constrain possible predicate classes, and this isprecisely what Tatevosov's approach does (see especially Tatevosov 2010, wherecross-linguistic hypotheses about possible aspectual classes and language-specificsystems of aspectual classes are proposed).

The second recent proposal in the domain of event structure which Croft fails to takeinto account is the work by Gillian Ramchand (2008), which, though couched in thegenerative syntactic framework, is in many ways parallel to Croft's functionalcognitive theory. Like Croft, Ramchand proposes an integrated theory of aspect,event structure and argument realization, where each event participant is associatedwith its own subevent represented as a node in the syntactic tree linked to a specificsemantic interpretation; the relations between different participants and subevents ofthe same event in Ramchand's system are causal in nature, thus resembling Croft'sforce-dynamic relations. Similarly to Croft, Ramchand is concerned with the issue ofwhat constrains the semantic potential of simple verbs and with such constructionsas causative, resultative etc. A critical evaluation of Ramchand's theory and itscomparison with his own would have constituted a highly relevant part of Croft'sbook.

The third major piece of pertinent work ignored by Croft (and, unfortunately, by manyof his colleagues) belongs to the Russian linguist Elena Paducheva, who hasdeveloped a sophisticated derivational theory of event structure and aspect (basingmainly on the Russian data), in many respects similar to that of Croft's (includingparallels in graphic representations of event types). The relevant publications inEnglish include Paducheva 1995, 1997, 1998, 2003 (see; among the important insightsmade by Paducheva is the recognition of the principled correlation betweenpredicate classes and semantic types of verbal arguments, cf. Croft's cursoryremarks on p. 378 of his book.

Further, in many parts of the book Croft fails to take into account and refer to therecent important work on the problems he is dealing with. Work which should havebeen considered include Carlota Smith's papers on English tense and aspect, e.g.Smith 1978 and Smith 1986, in section 4.3 on the basic tense-aspect constructionsin English; the major typological work (e.g., Nedjalkov ed. 2007) on reciprocals andreflexives, their semantics, polysemy, diachrony and expression across languagesin section; recent insights in the semantics of comitative constructions andcomitative relations by Alexandre Arkhipov (2009); recent developments in thetypology of the so-called "active/stative" languages (Donohue & Wichmann eds.2008) in section 6.3.1; recent proposals concerning transitivity such as Næss 2007and Malchukov 2006. All these lacunae are rather unfortunate; not invalidatingCroft's own proposals, they nevertheless make them weaker and less supported bythe existing body of data and literature than desired.

There are not many errors and typos in the book, and I will point out only thosewhich pertain to the data. On p. 121 the Russian verb 'be interested in' is'interesovat'sja,' not 'interesovat,' and the alleged Russian verb grančit' 'cut, facet'does not exist. On p. 193 the notation from Wunderlich 1997 is mixed up:accusative must be specified as [+hr], not [+lr], while the ergative is assigned [+lr],not [+hr]. In the Turkish ex. (90b) on p. 267 a wrong accusative case markerappears. In the Finnish ex. 85 on p. 317 GEN instead of PRTT must appear in theglosses; in addition, the abbreviations list on pp. xvi-xvii does not contain PART andPRTT.

To conclude, the new book by William Croft, despite certain drawbacks andweaknesses, is a major contribution to linguistic theory, which should be read by alllinguists interested in aspect, event structure, and argument realization, regardlessof particular theoretical frameworks they adhere to. The book is rich in ideas andempirical data and is written in a persuasive and appealing fashion, making it afascinating and smooth reading.


Arkhipov, Alexandre. 2009. Comitative as a cross-linguistically valid category. In:New Challenges in Typology: Transcending the Borders and Refining theDistinctions, Alexandre Arkhipov and Patience Epps (eds.), 223-246. Berlin, NewYork: Mouton de Gruyter.

Croft, William. 1991. Syntactic Categories and Grammatical Relations. TheCognitive Organization of Information. Chicago & London: The University of ChicagoPress.

Croft, William. 1998. Event structure in argument linking. In: The Projection ofArguments: Lexical and Compositional Factors, Miriam Butt and Wilhelm Geuder(eds.), 1-43. Stanford: CSLI.

Croft, William. 2001. Radical Construction Grammar. Syntactic Theory inTypological Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Croft, William. 2003. Lexical rules vs. constructions: a false dichotomy. In:Motivation in Language: Studies in Honour of Günter Radden, Hubert Cuyckens,Thomas Berg, René Dirven and Klaus-Uwe Panther (eds.), 49-68. Amsterdam,Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Croft, William & Keith T. Poole. 2008. Inferring universals from grammaticalvariation: multidimensional scaling for typological analysis. Theoretical Linguistics34. 1-37.

Dahl, Östen. 1985. Tense and Aspect Systems. Oxford: Blackwell.

Donohue, Mark & Søren Wichmann (eds.). 2008. The Typology of SemanticAlignment. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dowty, David R. 1991. Thematic proto-roles and argument selection. Language67(3). 547-619.

Hopper, Paul J. & Sandra A. Thompson. 1980. Transitivity in grammar anddiscourse. Language 56(2). 251-299.

Levin, Beth & Malka Rappaport Hovav. 2005. Argument Realization. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press.

Malchukov, Andrei. 2006. Transitivity parameters and transitivity alternations:Considering co-variation. In Case, Valency and Transitivity, Leonid I. Kulikov, AndreiL. Malchukov and Helen de Hoop (eds.), 329-358. Amsterdam, Philadelphia: JohnBenjamins.

Næss, Åshild. 2007. Prototypical Transitivity. Amsterdam, Philadelphia: JohnBenjamins.

Nedjalkov, Vladimir P. (ed.) 2007. Reciprocal Constructions. Vols. 1-4. Amsterdam,Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Paducheva, Elena. 1995. Taxonomic categories and semantics of aspectualopposition. In: Temporal Reference, Aspect and Actionality, Pier-Marco Bertinetto,Valentina Bianchi, Östen Dahl, James Higginbotham and Mario Squartini (eds.), Vol.I, 71-90. Torino: Rosenberg & Sellier.

Paducheva, Elena. 1997. Verb categorization and the format of a lexicographicdefinition. In: Recent Trends in Meaning-Text Theory, Leo Wanner (ed.), 61-74.Amsterdam, Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Paducheva, Elena. 1998. Thematic roles and the quest for semantic invariants oflexical derivation. Folia Linguistica 31(3-4). 349-363.

Paducheva, Elena. 2003. Lexical meaning and semantic derivation: the case ofimage creation verbs. In: Second International Workshop on Generative Approachesto the Lexicon. May 15-17, 2003, Geneva, 230-237.

Ramchand, Gillian C. 2008. Verb Meaning and the Lexicon. A First-Phase Syntax.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Smith, Carlota. 1978. The syntax and interpretation of temporal expressions inEnglish. Linguistics and Philosophy 2(1). 43-99.

Smith, Carlota. 1986. A speaker-based approach to aspect. Linguistics andPhilosophy 9(1). 97-115.

Talmy, Leonard. 1988. Force dynamics in language and cognition. CognitiveScience 12. 49-100.

Tatevosov, Sergei. 2002. The parameter of actionality. Linguistic Typology 6(3). 317-401.

Tatevosov, Sergei. 2010. Akcional'nost' v leksike i grammatike [Actionality inLexicon and Grammar.] Unpublished Habilitation Thesis, Moscow State University.

Wunderlich, Dieter. 1997. Cause and the structure of verbs. Linguistic Inquiry 28(1).27-68.


Peter M. Arkadiev, PhD in linguistics (2006), is a senior research fellowin the Department of Typology and Comparative Linguistics of theInstitute of Slavic studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences and anassistant professor at the Centre for Linguistic Typology of the Instituteof Linguistics of the Russian State University for the Humanities,Moscow. His main interests are linguistic typology with a focus on casemarking and argument structure and its formal realization, and tense-aspect-modality. He works mainly on Lithuanian and Adyghe.

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