The Interpretation of Underspecified Verbs
This chapter is concerned with the interpretation of underspecified verbs. It shows that standard model-theoretic approaches cannot be extended to this dynamic view of verbs since they presuppose a static notion of semantic arity which is specified in advance in the model against which the sentence is evaluated. This is demonstrated by discussing two approaches to the semantics of adjuncts (based on Dowty 1979 and McConnell-Ginet 1982). The chapter then introduces the notions of mental representation and pragmatic enrichment, and argues against this background that a proper understanding of underspecified verbs, and hence VP adjunction, can better be attained by a pragmatic analysis of verb phrase interpretation. Under this view verbs address mental concepts only indirectly, and the eventual, communicated concept is constructed in an ad hoc fashion in the utterance context with recourse to the pragmatic principle of relevance. The interpretation of verbs is thus seen in parallel to other processes of meaning construction, including non-literal meaning (cf. Carston 1996). Furthermore, since the eventual valency of a verb results from its meaning in context, it can equally only be determined with recourse to pragmatic knowledge. In other words, the establishment of basic predicate-argument structure is subject to pragmatic constraints on meaning construction. A result of this view is that there is no well-defined syntactic level of logical form as an interface between syntax and pragmatics, since the establishment of VPs — syntactic structures — presupposes the application of non-syntactic, pragmatic knowledge.
Keywords: adverbial modification, semantics of adjuncts, minimal recursion semantics, Relevance Theory, ad hoc concepts, concept formation, mental representations, logical form, propositional form, conceptual enrichment
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