Why do we have the causal predicates we have?

Jean-Pierre Koenig, Buffalo University

A lot of our verbal vocabulary describes events that include a cause. According to Koenig et al., 2003 about 30% of English verbs have at least one sense that entails the presence of a cause in the set of events they describe. The question we address in this talk is what kinds of semantic distinctions this large list of predicate encode and why they encode them. More specifically, this talk will tackle three distinct questions: (1) Why do verbs that require the presence of instruments in the set of events they describe seemingly violate some putative constraints on lexical meaning (how complex verb meaning can be, manner/result complementarity)? (2) What cross-lexical and cross-linguistic variation is there in whether what is lexically “entailed” to be caused to change actually change? Why do lexicons care about some semantic distinctions while sentence and discourse processing cares about other semantic distinctions?

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