A usage-based approach to verb classes in English and German




Dux, Ryan Joseph

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Drawing on data from verbs of Change (alter, transform) and Theft (steal, shoplift), my dissertation investigates and compares verb classes along a variety of dimensions. A common assumption in research on verbal syntax and semantics states that verbs with similar meanings exhibit similar syntactic behavior (Fillmore 1967, Levin 1993). For example, many Change verbs can occur in transitive constructions with into PPs (The witch {changed/turned/transformed} the prince into a frog). This systematicity has led scholars to propose verb classes, such as Change verbs, which are predictive of a verb’s syntactic behavior. However, recent research (Boas 2008, Faulhaber 2011) has challenged this assumption on the basis of data in which semantically similar verbs differ in their grammatical behavior (The prince {turned/??changed/*transformed} red).

The introductory chapters review research on verb classification and argument realization, revealing that cognitive and usage-based theories such as Frame Semantics, Construction Grammar, and Valency Grammar are most useful for addressing the three major goals of the dissertation. The first goal is to account for both regularity and differences in verb classes. After assessing the precise meanings and valency behavior of individual Change verbs, I develop a method for formulating verb classes and lexical entries at various levels of granularity to account for both shared and unpredictable behavior of individual verbs. The next major goal is to determine whether verb classes exhibit similar meanings and constructional behavior across languages, which I address by comparing the semantics and valency constructions found for English Change verbs with those of German Change verbs. Finally, I compare the Change verb analysis to a similar analysis of Theft verbs in order to determine whether the semantic domain and relative semantic richness of verb classes influences the degree of language-specific and cross-linguistic uniformity of verb classes.


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