General Talk

November 23, 16-17:30

Joost Zwarts, Nijmegen & Utrecht

Event Shape

Abstract: Donald Davidson's event analysis has had an enormous impact on how semanticists think about the meaning of the verb and about adverbs, perception reports and nominalizations, for example. This impact derives from a very simple proposal: verbs are first-order predicates over events in the same way in which nouns are traditionally first-order predicates over individuals. This gives us a good framework to think about global verbal semantics, but it does not help us very much at the lexical semantic level. Why are two verbs opposite (rise - fall)? Why does a verb belong to a particular aspectual class (compare walk with reach)? How is the meaning affected by a modifier? How can a verb share meaning elements with prepositions (as in the case of enter and into)? I will argue that we can approach these questions by associating certain events to a particular spatial or conceptual 'contour' or 'shape', represented by means of a path. It is the set of paths associated to a verb that explains patterns of opposition, aspectual properties, cross-categorial properties and modification.