Causation and Coercion: Towards a unified account of eventive and stative causal modifiers

Claudia Maienborn,  University of Tübingen 
A joint work with Johanna Herdtfelder

In this talk we will propose a semantic analysis of German causal von-modifiers (‘from’), which display an eventive and a stative reading. Causal von-modifiers provide an insightful linguistic window into our understanding of causation. In particular, we will argue for a stative variant of causation, on a par with eventive causation. To model stative causation, we resort to Moltmann’s (2007, 2009, 2013) ontological notion of tropes, i.e. concrete property manifestations in an individual. This allows us to propose a compositional semantics for causal von that derives its eventive and stative readings from a single lexical entry which expresses a causal relation between either events or tropes. Characteristic features of the interpretation (e.g., inferential behavior, holistic effects) follow from independently motivated assumptions concerning the ontology of events and tropes, and the spatiotemporal grounding of direct causation. Coercive adaptions, i.e. possible ways of resolving compositional type conflicts, are shown to be lexically predetermined. In other words, the lexical entry of causal von establishes explicitly which alternative types (apart from events/tropes) are tolerated and may give rise to an interpolation of the required event/trope argument in order to rescue composition. Our analysis corroborates Asher’s (2011) claim that coercion is non-destructive and proceeds strictly locally.