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The Compositional Semantics of Modification  

Sebastian Bücking

Modification is a combinatorial semantic operation between a modifier and a modifiee. Take, for example, vegetarian soup: the attributive adjective vegetarian modifies the nominal modifiee soup and thus constrains the range of potential referents of the complex expression to soups that are vegetarian. Similarly, in Ben is preparing a soup in the camper, the adverbial in the camper modifies the preparation by locating it. Notably, modifiers can have fairly drastic effects; in fake stove, the attribute fake induces that the complex expression singles out objects that seem to be stoves, but are not. Intuitively, modifiers contribute additional information that is not explicitly called for by the target the modifier relates to. Speaking in terms of logic, this roughly says that modification is an endotypical operation; that is, it does not change the arity, or logical type, of the modified target constituent. Speaking in terms of syntax, this predicts that modifiers are typically adjuncts and thus do not change the syntactic distribution of their respective target; therefore, modifiers can be easily iterated (see, for instance, spicy vegetarian soup or Ben prepared a soup in the camper yesterday). This initial characterization sets modification apart from other combinatorial operations such as argument satisfaction and quantification: combining a soup with prepare satisfies an argument slot of the verbal head and thus reduces its arity (see, for instance, *prepare a soup a quiche). Quantification as, for example, in the combination of the quantifier every with the noun soup, maps a nominal property onto a quantifying expression with a different distribution (see, for instance, *a every soup). Their comparatively loose connection to their hosts renders modifiers a flexible, though certainly not random, means within combinatorial meaning constitution. The foundational question is how to work their being endotypical into a full-fledged compositional analysis. On the one hand, modifiers can be considered endotypical functors by virtue of their lexical endowment; for instance, vegetarian would be born a higher-ordered function from predicates to predicates. On the other hand, modification can be considered a rule-based operation; for instance, vegetarian would denote a simple predicate from entities to truth-values that receives its modifying endotypical function only by virtue of a separate modification rule. In order to assess this and related controversies empirically, research on modification pays particular attention to interface questions such as the following: how do structural conditions and the modifying function conspire in establishing complex interpretations? What roles do ontological information and fine-grained conceptual knowledge play in the course of concept combination?

Article

Numerical Expressions in Chinese: Syntax and Semantics  

Chuansheng He and Min Zhang

Numerical expressions are linguistic forms related to numbers or quantities, which directly reflect the relationship between linguistic symbols and mathematical cognition. Featuring some unique properties, numeral systems are somewhat distinguished from other language subsystems. For instance, numerals can appear in various grammatical positions, including adjective positions, determiner positions, and argument positions. Thus, linguistic research on numeral systems, especially the research on the syntax and semantics of numerical expressions, has been a popular and recurrent topic. For the syntax of complex numerals, two analyses have been proposed in the literature. The traditional constituency analysis maintains that complex numerals are phrasal constituents, which has been widely accepted and defended as a null hypothesis. The nonconstituency analysis, by contrast, claims that a complex numeral projects a complementative structure in which a numeral is a nominal head selecting a lexical noun or a numeral-noun combination as its complement. As a consequence, additive numerals are transformed from full NP coordination. Whether numerals denote numbers or sets has aroused a long-running debate. The number-denoting view assumes that numerals refer to numbers, which are abstract objects, grammatically equivalent to nouns. The primary issue with this analysis comes from the introduction of a new entity, numbers, into the model of ontology. The set-denoting view argues that numerals refer to sets, which are equivalent to adjectives or quantifiers in grammar. One main difficulty of this view is how to account for numerals in arithmetic sentences.

Article

Idioms and Phraseology  

M. Teresa Espinal and Jaume Mateu

Idioms, conceived as fixed multi-word expressions that conceptually encode non-compositional meaning, are linguistic units that raise a number of questions relevant in the study of language and mind (e.g., whether they are stored in the lexicon or in memory, whether they have internal or external syntax similar to other expressions of the language, whether their conventional use is parallel to their non-compositional meaning, whether they are processed in similar ways to regular compositional expressions of the language, etc.). Idioms show some similarities and differences with other sorts of formulaic expressions, the main types of idioms that have been characterized in the linguistic literature, and the dimensions on which idiomaticity lies. Syntactically, idioms manifest a set of syntactic properties, as well as a number of constraints that account for their internal and external structure. Semantically, idioms present an interesting behavior with respect to a set of semantic properties that account for their meaning (i.e., conventionality, compositionality, and transparency, as well as aspectuality, referentiality, thematic roles, etc.). The study of idioms has been approached from lexicographic and computational, as well as from psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic perspectives.

Article

Meanings of Constructions  

Laura A. Michaelis

Meanings are assembled in various ways in a construction-based grammar, and this array can be represented as a continuum of idiomaticity, a gradient of lexical fixity. Constructional meanings are the meanings to be discovered at every point along the idiomaticity continuum. At the leftmost, or ‘fixed,’ extreme of this continuum are frozen idioms, like the salt of the earth and in the know. The set of frozen idioms includes those with idiosyncratic syntactic properties, like the fixed expression by and large (an exceptional pattern of coordination in which a preposition and adjective are conjoined). Other frozen idioms, like the unexceptionable modified noun red herring, feature syntax found elsewhere. At the rightmost, or ‘open’ end of this continuum are fully productive patterns, including the rule that licenses the string Kim blinked, known as the Subject-Predicate construction. Between these two poles are (a) lexically fixed idiomatic expressions, verb-headed and otherwise, with regular inflection, such as chew/chews/chewed the fat; (b) flexible expressions with invariant lexical fillers, including phrasal idioms like spill the beans and the Correlative Conditional, such as the more, the merrier; and (c) specialized syntactic patterns without lexical fillers, like the Conjunctive Conditional (e.g., One more remark like that and you’re out of here). Construction Grammar represents this range of expressions in a uniform way: whether phrasal or lexical, all are modeled as feature structures that specify phonological and morphological structure, meaning, use conditions, and relevant syntactic information (including syntactic category and combinatoric potential).