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Lexical category variation and the grammar of property concepts

Friday, February 4, 2011
12:00 AM
2001 LSA Building

Itamar Francez, University of Chicago (Based on joint work with Andrew Koontz-Garboden, University of Manchester) Dixon (1982) identifies a set of "property concepts" (PCs) that are always expressed by adjectives in languages for which such a category can be established. In such languages, adjectives usually participate in predicative (1) and comparative (2) constructions, to which we refer as "property concept constructions". (1) Mary is tall. (2) Mary is taller than you. Since some languages have only few, if any, adjectives, in such languages many property concepts must be expressed by other lexical categories. Little is known about the theoretical consequences of lexical category variation for the grammar of PC constructions. This talk examines predication and comparison in cases in which PCs are expressed by nouns rather than adjectives. Data from the typological literature and from fieldwork show that in a diverse set of unrelated languages (including Hausa [Chadic, West Africa], Ulwa [Misumalpan, Nicaragua], Bisa [Mande, West Africa]) PC nouns, unlike adjectives, systematically trigger possessive morphosyntax in constructions expressing PC predication. This pattern, which we refer to as "possessive strategies of predication", is argued to be a consequence of the denotational semantics of PC nouns, and a semantic framework for possessive strategies is proposed, based on a notion of property possession. This semantic framework is then brought to bear on the grammar of gradability and comparison, focusing on a pattern found in Ulwa, exemplified in (3)-(5). The Ulwa pattern differs from any other we are aware of in that the possessive material occurring in PC nouns is shared with possessive NPs rather than possessive (or 'have') sentences. (3) Francisco balauh-ka (Possessive NP)