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Author ORCID Identifier
Open Access Dissertation
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Year Degree Awarded
Month Degree Awarded
Linguistics | Morphology | Semantics and Pragmatics | Syntax
What is the relationship between the word spray in the sentence John sprayed the paint onto the wall and its identically pronounced counterpart in John sprayed the wall with the paint? At some level, we recognize these two uses of spray as the same word. But the fact that they combine with their arguments in different ways means they cannot be identical. The relationship between these two uses of spray—called the spray/load alternation—is productive in a way that a descriptively adequate grammar of English should capture. Other verbs show the same pattern, adults and children extend it to novel verbs, and children learning English overextend the pattern to non-alternating verbs. For these and other reasons, precisely how to describe and explain the spray/load alternation has been well-studied.
I discuss two kinds of novel evidence that bear on the correct analysis of the spray/load alternation. First, I wield the adverb again as a diagnostic of the syntactic and semantic decomposition of spray/load verbs, which reveals a syntactic bracketing paradox. Second, I dive deep into hitherto little explored facts that reveal striking asymmetries between the two kinds of objects of spray/load verbs. Goal objects are subject to restrictions on movement and nominalization that theme objects are not.
To account for these data, I propose an analysis that makes two theoretical contributions. First, the bracketing paradox revealed by again can be neatly resolved by a theory of syntax that allows multidominance. Second, the asymmetries between theme and goal objects suggests goal objects are derived in English by the conflation of a phonologically null preposition with the verb root, which reduces the asymmetries to facts about the syntax of prepositions.
Finally, I compare my analysis to others empirically and theoretically. Empirically, my analysis loses no significant ground to others' and has the advantage of accounting for the novel evidence discussed above. Theoretically, my approach requires only a simple and independently motivated syntax and semantics; my analysis' compatibility with this architectural simplicity constitutes an explanatory advantage compared to accounts that require more theoretical machinery to achieve similar or lesser levels of descriptive adequacy.
Wilson, Michael A., "The Syntactic and Semantic Atoms of the Spray/load Alternation" (2021). Doctoral Dissertations. 2383.
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