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Colloquium: Jim Wood
November 1, 2019 @ 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm
Putting our heads together: Icelandic deverbal event nouns and allosemy
Grimshaw (1990) showed that when an event noun is derived from a verb, it is systematically ambiguous. In the “Complex Event Nominal” (CEN), eyðilegging ‘destruction’ refers to an event and inherits argument structure from the verb (as in eyðilegging borgarinnar var hræðilegur atburður ‘the destruction of the town was a horrible event’). In the “Result Nominal” (RN), the same form can refer to a concrete entity (as in Jón gekk í gegnum eyðilegginguna ‘Jón walked through the destruction’), in which case it does not inherit argument structure from the verb. There is a general tension between these two observations: the systematic nature of the ambiguity suggests that the different readings should come from the same structure; if they didn’t, we’d expect morphological reflexes of the structural differences, and we wouldn’t have ambiguity in the first place. On the other hand, to capture the presence or absence of inheritance, linguists have proposed different structures for the different readings.
In this talk, I show how the notion of allosemy—late insertion at semantics, parallel to allomorphy in morphology—explains both the systematic ambiguity (there is one structure) and inheritance patterns (nouns may still inherit argument structure from verbs). I defend this perspective through by showing how Icelandic nominalization raises problems for two basic approaches to deverbal nominalization. I show that these problems do not arise if all readings of deverbal event nouns are derived by combining the lexical root with v(erbal) and n(ominal) heads directly. The ambiguity stems from allosemy of the v and n heads: either v or n can be semantically meaningless or meaningful. The resulting system incorporates insights from both of the basic approaches discussed: event structure is inherited from the verb, but argument structure is constructed in a way that is parallel to how it is constructed in the verb phrase. The syntax of an event nominal is just nominal syntax, with no verb phrase, even when the nominal contains a verbal head. The many-to-many mapping between form (e.g. the set of nominalizers) and meaning (the readings derived nominals may have) falls out of the basic architecture of the grammar.