Semantic primitives at the syntax-lexicon interface
Patricia Irwin, Itamar Kastner
July 2020

A perennial debate regarding the interface between conceptual ontologies, the lexicon, the syntax, and the semantics concerns the extent to which different predicates are associated with different argument structure configurations. Understanding what components of meaning influence the syntax and how these notions should be formalized are notoriously difficult tasks. Focusing on the lexical roots that make up verbs, we propose a theory of the syntax-lexical semantics interface designed to make explicit the relationship between semantic primitives and syntactic/semantic composition. Framed in the assumptions of the Minimalist Program and Distributed Morphology, our proposal consists of two main components. The first is that semantic primitives, which are grounded in grammatically-relevant conceptual terms, are part of the denotation of different verb classes. The second holds that (verbal) roots have formal types. This theory is tested on the ontology of root/verb classes discussed by Levinson (2007, 2010, 2014). We show how the differences between three verb classes with respect to three different syntactic diagnostics can be explained using the tools above in a compositional semantics, with consequences for the interfaces between the lexicon, the syntax, and the semantics.
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Reference: lingbuzz/005302
(please use that when you cite this article)
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keywords: lexical semantics, roots, syntax, formal semantics, syntax-lexicon interface, pseudo-resultative, double object construction
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