The semantics of past participles



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This dissertation proposes a new way of understanding the semantics of past participles, primarily in English. In some uses, past participles denote an event (e.g. 'fed' in 'The baby is being fed cheerios'), while in others the participle denotes a result state of an event of the kind denoted by the verb (e.g. 'fed' in 'The baby seemed well-fed'). This dissertation aims to describe and explain the interpretations and distribution of participial forms, both simple (e.g. 'stained') and compound (e.g. 'tear-stained'), across constructions. In particular, we focus on irregularities in the distribution and meaning of adjectival participles. The key thesis is that some participles are used as names, signs with unique denotations that speakers chunk for reuse. Participial names denote complex concepts which autonomously entail a property and the existence of a previous event via meaning postulates. This usage-based approach reflects how speakers organize their language to reflect the concepts that they want to talk about most, without having to stipulate a well-establishedness condition on the input to a regular rule.



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