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CAS LX 502 Semantics. 3a. Lexical decomposition. Splitting the word. What we will explore today is the idea that words are more complex than they appear. Of course, we already know that words can have lots of internal structure ( unzippable ), with several “pieces of meaning.”

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cas lx 502 semantics

CAS LX 502Semantics

3a. Lexical decomposition

splitting the word
Splitting the word
  • What we will explore today is the idea that words are more complex than they appear.
  • Of course, we already know that words can have lots of internal structure (unzippable), with several “pieces of meaning.”
  • Now, we’re going to consider the possibility that even some words that appear to be monomorphemic (e.g., give, get) have component “atoms” which may in part be diagnosed by their meaning.
have and possession
Have and possession
  • Paraphrasing Pat has a book, we might reasonably arrive at something like A book is at Pat—that is, what possessive have means is be at (located on Pat, in some sense).
    • Tha an peann aig Màiri (Scots Gaelic)BE the pen at Mary‘Mary has the pen.’
    • Larkee-kee paas kattaa hai (Hindi)boy-obl-G near dog BE.3sg.m.pres‘The boy has a dog.’
avoir tra invers
Avoir = êtra-à inversé?
    • Le livre est à Jean (French)the book is to Jean
    • Jean a le livreJean has the book‘Jean has the book’
  • Avoir n’est rien autre qu’un être-à inversé (Benveniste 1966: 197) (‘avoir is nothing other than an inverted être-à’)
  • The verb have actually has two component parts, be and a possessive preposition.
  • Have = BE + PHAVE
    • Note! Haveis not the same thing as PHAVE. PHAVE has a “pure” meaning of possession. Have, on the other hand, has a meaning more like ‘be in possession.’
    • This is rather like the fact that in French de ‘of’ and le‘the(masc.)’ when they come together form du. That is, du= de + le in the same way have = BE + PHAVE.
french again
French again
    • Le livre est à Jean (French)the book is to Jean
    • Jean a le livreJean has the book‘Jean has the book’
  • So, avoir is BE+PHAVE as well. Not all languages have a verb ‘have’, though all languages can express possession. Since French has both, there must be a difference—there seem to be two ways to express possession, one with PHAVE and one with a locative preposition.
  • Prepositions describe relations between two things.
    • (I saw) John on the bench.
    • (I saw) Mary behind the tree.
    • (I saw) Pat in the garden.
    • (I saw) Tracy alongside a highway.
    • (I saw) Chris aboard the boat.
  • The proposal here is that there is a preposition PHAVE describing the relation of possession between a possessor and a possessed.
  • Possession can be expressed either as:
    • BE+PHAVE (‘have’)
    • BE+PLOC (‘be at’)
  • In many languages, BE+PHAVE is pronounced as a single verb, e.g., have.
  • Much ink has been spilled over the fact that, in English, you can say both…
    • Pat gave the book to Tracy.
    • Pat gave Tracy the book.
  • …to mean essentially the same thing. Some have suggested that the difference a little bit like…
    • The book was written by Pat.
    • Pat wrote the book.
  • …that is, with one being a version of the other.
restrictions on give
Restrictions on give
  • However, we may not want to think of Pat gave the book to Tracyand Pat gave Tracy a book as arising from the same underlying atoms.
    • Pat gave Tracy a kick.
    • *Pat gave a kick to Tracy.
    • The trial gave Greta a story.
    • *The trial gave a story to Greta.
    • Pat gave Tracy a child.
    • Pat gave a child to Tracy.
give cause to possess
Give = cause to possess
  • If the meaning of give is essentially cause to possess, and we have two forms of possession, then perhaps we really have two forms of give.
    • Give = CAUSE + PHAVE
      • Pat gave Tracy a book.
      • Pat CAUSE Tracy PHAVE a book
    • Give = CAUSE + PLOC
      • Pat gave a book to Tracy.
      • Pat CAUSE a book PLOC to Tracy.
rather abstract
Rather abstract
  • Thinking deeply about the meaning of have and give we can convince ourselves that there are smaller atoms of meaning. What evidence do we have that these atoms are of real linguistic significance, that they play a role in our linguistic knowledge, a causal role in our linguistic behavior?
  • Sometimes whole phrases (verb phrases) can have an idiomatic meaning: kick the bucket, buy the farm, … They have a meaning that is not derivable from the component parts. They are in some sense a lexical item in and of themselves.
  • Usually, this is tied to both the verb (tap the bucket, rent the farm) and the object (kick the pail, buy the house, kick several buckets, buy a farm) together.
  • This kind of verb-object relationship (the same one in preposition-object relationships—on the table) is important for the combination to get an idiosyncratic meaning. In a sense that will be clearer in LX522, they have to be next to one another.
idioms and phave
Idioms and PHAVE
  • The idea we will pursue here is that if give, have, and other verbs (get, take, …) have this abstract PHAVE preposition as part of their makeup, there could be idioms of the form PHAVE+Object as well.
  • And if PHAVE is real, then any of the verbs that have PHAVE as a part should be able to take on the idiomatic reading for PHAVE+Object.
giving someone the creeps
Giving someone the creeps
    • The Count gave Mary the creeps.
  • This has an idiomatic meaning. It could be simply that give + the creeps yields that meaning, except:
    • The Count gave the creeps to Mary.
    • Mary got the creeps (just looking at the Count).
  • So, the idiomatic meaning survives changing the verb from giveto get, but doesn’t survive in the variant form of give.
having the creeps
Having the creeps
  • But if we view give in terms of its atoms:
    • The Count gave Mary the creeps.The Count CAUSE Mary PHAVE the creeps.
    • The Count gave the creeps to Mary.The Count CAUSE the creeps PLOC to Mary.
  • So, the idiomatic meaning associated with having the creeps is actually due to PHAVE+the creeps.
getting the creeps
Getting the creeps
  • The fact that this idiomatic meaning also appears with get and have suggests that they share the atoms that form the idiom.
    • Mary gets the creeps (just looking at him).Mary BECOME+PHAVE the creeps
    • Mary has the creeps (from looking at him).Mary BE+PHAVE the creeps
  • get= BECOME+PHAVE, have= BE+PHAVE.
giving birth
Giving birth
  • We also have the reverse situation:
    • Laura gave birth to Nolan.
    • *Laura gave Nolan birth.
    • The Romans gave way to the Visigoths.
    • *The Romans gave the Visigoths way.
  • For these, the form of give with to is required, the “double object” form of givewill not do.
giving birth1
Giving birth
    • Laura gave birth to Nolan.Laura CAUSE birth PLOC to Nolan
    • *Laura gave Nolan birth.Laura CAUSE Nolan PHAVE birth.
    • *Nolan got birth.
    • The Romans gave way to the Visigoths.The Romans CAUSE way PLOC to the Visigoths
    • *The Romans gave the Visigoths way.The Romans CAUSE the Visigoths PHAVE way
    • *The Visigoths got way.
  • So, here the idiom is formed from “CAUSE birth PLOC” rather than from “PHAVE the creeps”.
wanting to leave
Wanting to leave
  • Consider this: I want to leave.
  • Means: I want this to happen: I leave.
    • There is an understood “I” subject for leave—we’ll discuss this more later. It correlates with the subject of want, e.g. if John wants to leave, then John’s desires will be satisfied if this happens: John leaves.
  • In general, suppose the meaning of wantis that there is a certain state of affairs, which, if it comes about, will satisfy the wanter’s desires.
wanting a beer
Wanting a beer
  • But you can also say: I want a beer.
  • This does not mean, for example, that I want a beer to exist.
  • Rather, it means that my desires will be satisfied if this comes about: I have a beer.
  • It’s very much like I want to have a beer.
wanting and having
Wanting and having
  • I want another cigarette.
  • I want to have another cigarette.
    • (I want to smoke another cigarette.)
  • I want a car.
  • I want to have a car.
    • (I want to own a car)
  • I want the car.
  • I want to have the car.
    • (I want to possess the car for a while.)
very much like
Very much like…
  • In fact, consider this (unexplained) restriction on have:
    • He took his jacket off.
    • He took off his jacket.
    • He had his jacket off.
    • *He had off his jacket.
    • The doctor had the splinter out (in no time).
    • *The doctor had out the splinter (in no time).
very much like1
Very much like…
  • The same holds true for want NP—it seems like the case for want NP to have a “hidden have” is pretty strong.
    • The doctor wants those stitches out.
    • *The doctor wants out those stitches.
    • He wants his jacket off.
    • *He wants off his jacket.
and yet
…and yet…
  • But, then, in some cases it gets less promising:
    • Pat wants a compliment.
    • Pat wants to have a compliment?
    • Pat has a compliment?
    • Pat wants a kiss.
    • Pat wants to have a kiss?
    • Pat has a kiss?
  • Here, it seems more like want NP means ‘want to get NP’, not ‘want to have NP’.
want np want phave np
Want NP = want+PHAVE+NP
  • But, suppose that it isn’t a silent have or silent get that appears as part of want NP, but rather PHAVE.
    • The problem with having a compliment is that it implies a kind of duration (BE+PHAVE), and compliments, once given, cease to exist. Getting a compliment (BECOME+PHAVE) doesn’t imply a duration, and so it’s fine. Quite possibly the same problem as in Pat has the boot.
wanting to phave
Wanting to PHAVE
  • The idea here is that want NP has a single meaning, but one which is shared between want to have NP and want to get NP—that is, want to PHAVE NP.
    • For reasons that are not clear, PHAVE idioms don’t seem to survive in want NP constructions, though: Mary wanted the creeps, John wanted a piece of her mind, Pat wanted the boot.
decomposing other verbs
Decomposing other verbs
  • There are several other verbs that participate in the “dative shift” alternation that give does, and we can understand them in a similar way.
    • John sent Mary a letter.John CAUSE+√send Mary PHAVE a letter.
    • John sent a letter to Mary.John CAUSE+√send a letter PLOC to Mary.
    • John taught the students French.John CAUSE+√teach the students PHAVE French
    • John taught French to the students.John CAUSE+√teach French PLOC to the students
send and teach
Send and teach
  • And only the PHAVE variants have the implication of possession.
    • Pat sent Mary a letter.
    • Pat sent a letter to Mary.
    • Pat sent a letter to Philadelphia.
    • *Pat sent Philadelphia a letter.
    • John taught the students French.
    • John taught French to the students.
in sum
In sum
  • Even apparently simple verbs like have and get have an internal structure that is not so unlike unrefaxeristically—or French du(de+le). Individual morphemes that contribute to the meaning of the whole, even when the pronunciation of the whole doesn’t transparently reflect its semantic/structural parts.
    • By identifying classes of verbs that share the same semantic component and the same behavior, we can make generalizations and come closer to understanding why it is (and how we know) that Pat can’t give the creeps to Tracy.

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  • Benveniste, Emile (1966). Problèmes de linguistique générale. Paris: Gallimard.
  • Harley, Heidi (2002). Possession and the double-object construction. Linguistic Variation Yearbook 2:29-68.
  • Harley, Heidi (2003). Wanting, having, and getting: a note on Fodor & Lepore 1998. To appear in Linguistic Inquiry 35(2).
  • Richards, Norvin (2001). An idiomatic argument for lexical decomposition. Linguistic Inquiry 32(1):183-192.