The building blocks of meaning: Psycholinguistic evidence on the nature of verb argument structure
Ziegler, Jayden Robert
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CitationZiegler, Jayden Robert. 2019. The building blocks of meaning: Psycholinguistic evidence on the nature of verb argument structure. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis thesis is an experimental investigation of the semantic representations that underlie natural language syntax. Theories of semantic representation categorize the nouns in a sentence according to the roles they play in the event. For example, Sally is an agent in Sally broke the cup, while the cup is a patient, or undergoer of that action. We call these categories semantic (or thematic) roles. The earliest theories of semantic roles treat them as standalone units that have no internal structure. On these theories, the roles are in a ranked list (prominence hierarchy) that determines their syntactic expression. In Sally broke the cup, agents are assumed to be more prominent than patients, making the agent the subject and the patient the object. Contemporary approaches instead decompose verbs into smaller units (ACT, BECOME, CAUSE, HAVE, etc.) that are embedded within one another hierarchically, forming event structures. On these theories, semantic roles correspond to different positions within these structures, and are isomorphically mapped (based on the geometry of the semantic tree) to surface grammatical positions for syntactic expression. For example, Sally broke the cup has the structure: [Sally(agent) CAUSE [vase(patient) BECOME <STATE>broken]], glossed as “Sally caused the cup to become broken.” Building on earlier work, the experiments presented in this thesis (14 in total) demonstrate that event structures provide greater empirical coverage over atomic semantic roles. This work also begins to provide a clearer description of the inventory and scope of the primitive units that form these semantic event representations.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:42029514
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