Periodic Reporting for period 2 - LexsemLexcat (The lexical semantics of lexical categories)
Reporting period: 2020-03-01 to 2021-08-31
Second-hand data evaluated during this phase, and later followed up on as part of WP4 (see Bowler 2020), suggest that in Warlpiri (WP4) nouns too can have this same kind of meaning. A clear result of WP1, therefore, is that this particularly class of meaning is found among nouns, adjectives, and verbs. This finding led us to investigate the nature of degreelessness generally. The results of this investigation
show that the crosslinguistic data do not support the orthodox view of the Degree Semantics Parameter as binary parameter which languages simply have a positive or negative setting for. Instead, we have recast degreefulness as tied to variation in whether languages do or do not have particular elements which support that kind of meaning, such as constructions of measurement, particular kinds of comparative constructions, etc.
This work, in turn, has raised questions about the status of degrees in languages where there is little evidence for them. In order to investigate this question, we are undertaking detailed investigations in the contexts of WP3 and WP4 of Washo and Warlpiri respectively. In the case of Washo, we have found that while the language remains degreeless on a wide-scale found among few other languages (Bochnak in prep), the language invokes possession in the predication of property concept lexemes, much like Hausa does. This work
has therefore opened up a hither-to unknown corner of linguistic typology, showing that degreelessness and property concept possession crosscut one another. The work on degreelessness in Warlpiri has focussed on the comparative construction, which is like that found in Washo in being conjoined, so that ‘Kim is taller than Sandy’ is rendered as ‘Kim is tall and Sandy is short’. Warlpiri is unlike Washo and more like English, however, in allowing such a comparative to be used in contexts where, for example, Kim and Sandy differ only minimally in their height. Bowler has shown that this fact can be understood with reference to particular aspects of the nominal nature of property concept words in Warlpiri and the nature of noun phrases in Warlpiri generally, raising important questions about the ways in which comparatives can vary across languages both in their form and meanings. Another major strand of work in WP3 has collected additional data to expand on the database `Verbal Roots Across Languages’ to show that a property concept word (e.g. red) is more likely to have the same form as a change into that property concept (e.g. redden) just in case the property concept word is a verb, rather than a noun or an adjective. This finding is confirmatory evidence for a key project hypothesis about the nature of verb meaning: that only verbs can describe changes of state.
In WP2, we have investigated adjectives in Fijian and Basaa. Fijian was selected early on, due to the claim that it was a language with adjectives that were degreeless. We have shown that while the property concept lexemes are indeed adjectival, the facts do not support a degreeless analysis, at least with the constructions investigated. Investigation of Basaa has offered rare evidence for the hypothesis that the meanings of adjectives (e.g. strong) is the same as the meanings for have + mass property concept noun constructions (e.g. have strength), allowing us to shed light on underlying meanings of property concept words and offering some evidence for a universal underlying semantic core for them.
This result has fed into work which falls under WP5. Drawing on crosslinguistic results of WP1, we have collected data from five diverse languages that show that there are affixes that create property concept words that are nouns, adjectives, or verbs that are at the same time possessive. Alongside results of WP2 and WP3, this result provides additional evidence for a universal underlying core meaning to property concept words. Another strand of word under WP5 considers what it means when property concept words and words that are not property concept words appear in the same grammatical contexts. Work on Logoori, for example, has shown that a single semantic generalization underlies the use of a wide range of word classes with the verb kudoka ‘arrive/be enough/reach/must’, thereby offering evidence for a particular meaning component in the meanings of property concept words. Additional work considers what can be learned from the derivation of change of state verbs from property concept words, both in English and crosslinguistic context, about the underlying meaning of property concept words as against adjectives with other kinds of meanings.