John Beavers is an Associate Professor in the Department of Linguistics at The University of Texas at Austin. He earned his Ph.D. in Linguistics from Stanford University in 2006. His research areas are formal syntax and semantics, lexical semantics, and linguistic typology. He is primarily interested the nature of word meanings, including how word meanings are decomposed into more basic semantic primitives, how these primitives are interpreted truth conditionally, and how a word’s meaning correlates with and ultimately determines its grammatical behavior. He has a specific focus on verbal semantics and the linguistic representation of events, with ongoing projects on argument realization, lexical aspect, affectedness and result encoding, the relationship of regular and idiosyncratic meaning in a verb’s semantics, and the encoding of motion events, including studies on English, Indonesian, Japanese, Spanish, and Colloquial Sinhala.
Applicativization and Root-Sensitivity in Argument Alternations
The central question in the study of verbal meaning are what the basic component’s of a verb’s meaning are and how they compose together into more complex meanings in ways that make predictions about possible and impossible verbs. Event structural theories have been arguably the dominant approach to the study of verb meaning over the last 50 years. On such approaches a verb’s meaning is assumed to decompose into an event template capturing the verb’s broad temporal and causal contours that groups verbs into semantically unified classes, and an idiosyncratic semantic root naming specific actions and states for a given verb within a class. A common assumption is that there is a division of labor in the grammatical properties of templates vs. roots: event templates largely determine the verb’s grammatical properties (e.g. its argument structure and derivational morphology) while the root mainly just figures into its idiosyncratic form. On such approaches argument alternations thus generally thought to reflect a single root that occurs in two templates, where the variation in templates is what derives the morphosyntactic details of the argument structure and its semantic effects.
However, it is well known that roots can condition what alternations they occur in, though there is little consensus in prior work on how this is done. In this talk I present joint work with Kyle Jerro and Andrew Koontz-Garboden on applicatives in Kinyarwanda that addresses this question directly. Applicatives are standardly thought to introduce additional event structural material into the event structure of the base verb in a fairly monotonic fashion, always ensuring that the applicativized verb has essentially the same meaning as the non-applicativized variant but with an extra argument bearing an extra role not found in the meaning of the base verb. I show that the applicative responsible for deriving the dative alternation in Kinyarwanda produces a much wider range of argument alternation.