Linguistics Department

Dissertation Defense - Tony Wright "Strict vs. Flexible Accomplishment Predicates"

Fri, April 4, 2014 | CLA 1.302D

11:00 AM - 1:00 PM

The central issue of this study is how predicates in English and ASL represent the completeness of events. The standard view is that predicates which are composed of dynamic verbs with quantized arguments denote the reaching of a natural endpoint (Vendler (1957), Dowty (1979), Smith (1991), Verkuyl (1993), Krifka (1998)). A consequence of this view is that sentences with dynamic verbs and quantized arguments are false when they refer to non-completed events. For example, if John ate only half of a sandwich, the sentence John ate a sandwich is false as it applies to this event.

Some researchers have questioned whether this standard view matches native speaker intuitions (Lin (2004), Smollett (2005)). It is my hypothesis that the lexical aspectual category of accomplishments (those which have an obligatory preparatory phase and a natural endpoint) can be subdivided into strict accomplishments, those that require event completion (endpoint inclusion) in their truth conditions and flexible accomplishments, those which do not. This study addresses the following questions. (1) Do dynamic verb/quantized argument predicates entail endpoint inclusion? (2) Is there an inference, as opposed to an entailment, of endpoint-inclusion in English and ASL? If so what is the nature of this inference? (3) Is there a conceptual property that underlies the membership of predicates in the hypothesized class of flexible accomplishments?

Three experiments were conducted in the course of this study to address these questions. The data gathered were analyzed in the light of the standard aspectuality literature. The following conclusions were reached: (1) The endpoint-inclusion inference in English is a conversational implicature, not an entailment. (2) Events which consist of iterated “minimal events” (Rothstein, 2004) are flexible accomplishments; however, not all flexible accomplishments consist of iterated minimal events. (4) ASL dynamic verb/quantized argument predicates lack the endpoint-inclusion inference due to their explicit iconic reference to minimal events. (5) The endpoint-inclusion connotation of flexible accomplishments in English is due to a basic inference that the action of the verb in dynamic verb/quantized argument predicates covers/affects the whole extent of an object/path/scale, but specific world knowledge in the form of stereotypicality features outranks this inference.

Bookmark and Share