Abstracts Jürgen Bohnemeyer
It is argued that the linking between semantic roles and syntactic arguments is not governed by grammatical relations in Yucatec. Intraclausally, alignment (or “obviation”) constraints disambiguate arguments for linking: the “actor” argument of transitive active verb forms must outrank the undergoer on a “prominence” hierarchy if both are third-person. Interclausally, linking is regulated by construction-specific rules: in the case of extraction, one that mandates use of a special voice form in case the target of extraction thematically outranks another argument; in the case of control, one that requires the highest-ranking thematic role to be linked to the target of control.
The nominal lexicon of Seri is characterized by a prevalence of analytical descriptive terms. We explore the consequences of this typological trait in the landscape domain. The complex landscape terms of Seri classify geographic entities in terms of their material consistency and spatial properties such as shape, orientation, and mereological relations. This analytical system of linguistic categorization opens up an intriguing window into the conceptualization of the landscape domain.
Standing divided: Dispositionals and locative predications in two Mayan languages.
The Mayan languages Tzeltal and Yucatec have large form classes of ‘dispositional’ roots which lexicalize spatial properties such as orientation, support/suspension/blockage of motion, and configurations of parts of an entity with respect to other parts. But speakers of the two languages deploy this common lexical resource quite differently. The roots are used in both languages to convey dispositional information (e.g., answering ‘how’-questions), but Tzeltal speakers also use them in canonical locative descriptions (e.g., answering ‘where’-questions), whereas Yucatec speakers only use dispositionals in locative predications when prompted by the context to focus on dispositional properties. We describe the constructions used in locative and dispositional descriptions in response to two different picture stimuli sets. Evidence against the proposal that Tzeltal uses dispositionals to compensate for its single, semantically generic preposition (Brown 1994; Grinevald 2006) comes from the finding that Tzeltal speakers use relational spatial nominals in the ‘ground phrase’ – the expression of the place at which an entity is located – about as frequently as Yucatec speakers. We consider several alternative hypotheses, including a possible larger typological difference that leads Tzeltal speakers, but not Yucatec speakers, to prefer ‘theme-specific’ verbs not just in locative predications, but in any predication involving a theme argument.
Guerssel et al.’s 1985 generalizations regarding the argument structure of verbs of cutting and breaking (C&B) are reanalyzed based on the principles of Morpholexical Relatedness and Complete Linking. The hypothesis that the C&B domain is universally partitioned into argument structure classes of CUT and BREAK verbs is tested against a corpus of data from 17 languages. Counterevidence to the hypothesis include “bipolar” verbs that are semantically specific both on the state change and its cause; polysemous constructions encompassing anticausative derivations and voice operations with quasi-inchoative readings; and verbs framing severance as state change. The survey suggests that universals of argument structure include the principles of Morpholexical Relatedness and Complete Linking, but not specific verb classes.
Do language-specific patterns of motion event encoding along the lines of Talmy’s (2000) typology of verb-framed (V) vs. satellite-framed (S) languages influence nonlinguistic cognition? Finkbeiner et al. (2002), Gennari et al. (2002), and Papafragou et al. (2002) found language-specific effects in similarity-judgment tasks only under prior verbal encoding or commitment of targets to memory. However, these studies raise methodological concerns: Gennari et al.’s participants found same-path variants more similar to targets than same-manner variants independently of language, while Finkbeiner et al.’s study produced the inverse pattern and Papafragou et al.’s results showed no significant preference either way. We conducted a similarity-judgment task which systematically varies types of manners and paths in 17 genetically and typologically diverse languages. We found an effect of language, which, however, is not directly based on the V/S-distinction. V–languages fall into a group whose speakers strongly prefer same-manner choices and one whose speakers show a weak preference for same-path choices. Speakers of S–languages do not differ significantly, as a whole, from either group. Moreover, there are significant effects of finer-grained contrasts in path and manner that further call into question the generalizations offered in the previous studies.
Previous studies of event segmentation in language have used syntactic (Pawley 1987) or intonational units (Givón 1991) as criteria. We show that there is no universally valid correlation between such units and semantic/conceptual event representations. We introduce the ‘macro-event property’ (MEP) as an alternative: a construction has the MEP if it packages event representations in such a way that temporal operators necessarily have scope over all subevents. We present a case study on the segmentation of causal chains into macro-event expressions in Dutch, Ewe, Japanese, Lao, and Yukatek Maya. An unpredicted amount of crosslinguistic variation emerges, driven chiefly by differences in lexicalization and the availability of constructions.
We examine universals and cross-linguistic variation in constraints on event segmentation. Previous typological studies have focused on segmentation into syntactic (Pawley 1987) or intonational units (Givón 1991). We argue that the correlation between such units and semantic/conceptual event representations is language-specific. As an alternative, we introduce the ‘macro-event property’ (MEP): a construction has the MEP if it packages event representations such that temporal operators necessarily have scope over all subevents. A case study on the segmentation of motion events into macro-event expressions in 18 genetically and typologically diverse languages has produced evidence of two types of design principles that impact motion event segmentation: language-specific lexicalization patterns and universal constraints on form-to-meaning mapping.
There are languages – e.g., German, Inuktitut, and Russian – in which the aspectual reference of clauses depends on the telicity of their event predicates. We argue that in such languages, clauses or verb phrases not overtly marked for viewpoint aspect implicate or entail ‘event realization’, a property akin to Parsons’s (1990) ‘culmination’. The aspectual reference associated with the use of clauses not overtly marked for aspect is computed in accordance with the dependence of realization conditions on telicity and in line with principles of Gricean pragmatics. We formalize event realization and capture the telicity-dependent patterns of aspectual reference on which it is based by combining Krifka’s (1989, 1992, 1998) event lattices with a model-theoretic interpretation of Klein’s (1994) theory of tense and aspect. The latter permits us to treat the ‘topic times’ of aspectual operators as temporal constraints on event realization.
Split-intransitive systems of argument marking provide an excellent opportunity to study the structure of the lexical-semantic representations that underlie argument structure alternations and argument linking rules. Yukatek Maya has a typologically rare split-intransitive pattern of argument marking controlled by overt aspect-mood marking. Krämer & Wunderlich (1999) have advanced an analysis according to which the linking of thematic relations to syntactic arguments is governed by lexical aspect as the sole lexical-semantic property linking principles are sensitive to in this language. Critical evidence against this proposal comes from the transitivity alternations of three classes of intransitive verbs: ‘degree achievement’ verbs, ‘non-internally-caused’ process verbs, and posture verbs. Transitivity alternations emerge as being governed by the distinction of internally- vs. externally-caused events. The Yukatek facts suggest that argument linking operates on a lexical information structure (‘event structure’) that partially determines (and thus also underspeficies) both lexical aspect and participant structure.
This chapter explores a principle of motion event coding that appears to be shared across languages: the Unique Vector Constraint (UVC). The UVC determines the complexity of direction information that can be coded in simple motion event clauses. According to the UVC, all direction specifications in a single simple clause must denote the same direction vector. The UVC is distinguished from another principle of motion event coding, the Argument Uniqueness Constraint (AUC), which requires the unique assignment of path roles such as ‘source’, ‘via’, ‘goal’, ‘toward’, etc. in single simple clauses. It is argued that both constraints are principles of form-to-meaning mapping at the syntax-semantics interface.
This article examines how narratives are structured in a language in which event order is largely not coded. Yucatec Maya lacks both tense inflections and temporal connectives corresponding to English after and before. It is shown that the coding of events in Yucatec narratives is subject to a strict iconicity constraint within paragraph boundaries. Aspectual viewpoint shifting is used to reconcile iconicity preservation with the requirements of a more flexible narrative structure.
This study provides an in-depth analysis of the morphosyntax, semantics, and pragmatics of the major
grammatical constructions involved in time reference in Yukatek Maya, a
native Mesoamerican language spoken on the
In Yukatek Maya, event types are lexicalized in verb roots and stems that fall into a number of different form classes on the basis of (a) patterns of aspect-mood marking and (b) priviledges of undergoing valence-changing operations. Of particular interest are the intransitive classes in the light of Perlmutter’s (1978) Unaccusativity hypothesis. In the spirit of Levin & Rappaport Hovav (1995) [L&RH], Van Valin (1990), Zaenen (1993), and others, this paper investigates whether (and to what extent) the association between formal predicate classes and event types is determined by argument structure features such as ‘agentivity’ and ‘control’ or features of lexical aspect such as ‘telicity’ and ‘durativity’. It is shown that mismatches between agentivity/control and telicity/durativity are even more extensive in Yukatek than they are in English (Abusch 1985; L&RH, Van Valin & LaPolla 1997), providing new evidence against Dowty’s (1979) reconstruction of Vendler’s (1967) ‘time schemata of verbs’ in terms of argument structure configurations. Moreover, contrary to what has been claimed in earlier studies of Yukatek (Krämer & Wunderlich 1999, Lucy 1994), neither agentivity/control nor telicity/durativity turn out to be good predictors of verb class membership. Instead, the patterns of aspect-mood marking prove to be sensitive only to the presence or absense of state change, in a way that supports the unified analysis of all verbs of gradual change proposed by Kennedy & Levin (2001). The presence or absence of ‘internal causation’ (L&RH) may motivate the semantic interpretation of transitivization operations. An explicit semantics for the valence-changing operations is proposed, based on Parsons’s (1990) Neo-Davidsonian approach.
This article lays out the
principal results of my dissertation project (Bohnemeyer 1998) on temporality
in Yukatek Maya, a Native Mesoamerican language spoken by about 800.000
people living all across the
Deixis is a type of reference constituted by the meaning of a linguistic sign being relativized to the extra-linguistic context in which the sign is used. The semiotic nature of this kind of reference, its exact communicative prerequisites and functions, its acquisition by children, and its processing have long been puzzling linguists, philosophers, psychologists, and anthropologists. This article presents an introduction to some of the research that has focused on deictic signs and meanings and a phenomenology of them.
This study is devoted to
the investigation of the expression of temporality in Yukatek Maya, a Native
Mesoamerican language spoken on the
According to Wierzbicka’s Natural Semantic Metalanguage approach, the event ordering relations ‘after’ and ‘before’ represent primitives and universals of time semantics. The paper offers evidence against this proposal. The argumentation is based on Yucatec Maya, a language in which event order relations are not grammaticalized (no deictic or anaphoric tenses) and are only marginally lexicalized (no connectives or adverbials such as after(wards) or before). Time reference and temporal coherence in discourse rely crucially on modal and aspectual operators. Inferences about temporal ordering derived from modal and aspectual information depend on context and world knowledge. However, the results of a film-to-film matching task prove clearly that native speakers of Yucatec and German do not differ in their capability to identify, categorize and communicate the complex temporal structures represented in the videos. Finally, a discussion of Yucatec ‘aspectual verbs’ reveals semantic properties distinct from those of Indo-European aspectual verbs and points to the greater power of Yucatec aspectual operators in maintaining discourse coherence.
This paper investigates links between the lexicalization of temporal and spatial relations in Yucatec Maya. Yucatec displays a striking absence of event order relators in both syntax (connectives, adpositions, etc.) and inflection (tense). Time reference and temporal coherence in discourse instead rely heavily on inferences from aspectual and modal information, discourse structure and world knowledge. In line with this, relations of motion of a spatial figure with respect to a spatial ground (‘path’) are not lexicalized in Yucatec. Rather than continuous locomotion of an object, Yucatec lexicalizes punctual changes of spatial configurations. Taking the localist hypothesis as ventage point, the paper compares these strategies of spatial and temporal reference and explores possible explanations for their covariation.
This paper confronts the ‘Bootstrapping’ proposals of how children acquire the meaning of verbs based on their formal properties (‘Syntactic Bootstrapping’; Landau & Gleitman 1985), or the morphosyntactic properties of verbs based on their semantic argument structure (‘Semantic Bootstrapping’; Pinker 1989), with some facts about the syntax and semantics of motion event expressions in Yucatec Maya. I argue that Maya children cannot possibly identify motion verbs in Yucatec solely on grounds of formal evidence. At the same time, there are considerable semantic differences in the expression of motion events across Indo-European languages and Yucatec. These differences suggest that in acquiring the meaning of motion event expressions, learners must consider morphosyntactic evidence from the adult language, contrary to what is presupposed by the Semantic Bootstrapping hypothesis.