Semantics Circle: Formalizing the syntax-lexical semantics interface

Vortragende(r)Itamar Kastner (& Patricia Irwin, Swarthmore College)
Institution(en) Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Datum 27.11.2019
Uhrzeit 15:00 Uhr
Ort4. Etage, Raum 403 (Seminarraum)

An ongoing debate regarding the interface between conceptual ontologies, the lexicon, the syntax, and the semantics concerns the extent to which different predicates are associated with different argument structure configurations. How should we encode the fact that, in English, one can bake without specifying the object, but one cannot clear without specifying what is being cleared? This difference is related at least indirectly to how people generally conceive of baking and clearing events. Yet understanding what components of meaning surface as grammatical factors and how these notions should be formalized are notoriously difficult tasks.

Focusing on the lexical roots that make up verbs, I propose a theory of the syntax-lexical semantics interface designed to make explicit the relationship between conceptual ontologies, semantic primitives, and syntactic/semantic composition. Relying on Minimalist syntax and Distributed Morphology as morphological assumptions, the semantic part of the theory consists of two main components. The first is the assumption that (verbal) roots have formal types. The second holds that semantic primitives, which are grounded in grammatically-relevant conceptual terms, are part of the denotation of different verb classes. This theory is tested on the ontology of root/verb classes discussed by Levinson (2007, 2010, 2014). I show how the differences between three verb classes with respect to three different syntactic diagnostics can be explained using the tools above in a compositional semantics, with consequences for lexicon-syntax-semantics interface(s).