This week, Rebekah Baglini is back at the workshop again to present some of her work on stativity and lexical semantics. We hope you’ll join us!
Speaker: Rebekah Baglini (Linguistics, PhD Candidate, University of Chicago)
Title: States, degrees, and the semantics of lexical categories
Date: Friday 1/31
Time: 11:30 am to 1:20 pm
Location: Wieboldt 408
Linguists and philosophers often mention states in characterizing the referential properties of certain lexical items. But different languages use different syntactic categories to encode these meanings, leading to systematic variation in the shape of stative constructions. English exemplifies the three primary strategies for expressing stative meaning attested cross-linguistically: non-dynamic verbs (1), adjectival predicates (2), and certain abstract mass nouns or roots (3).
(1) VERBAL: Sam hungers for pie.
(2) ADJECTIVAL: Sam is hungry.
(3) NOMINAL: Sam has hunger.
Surprisingly, the semantics literature does not relate the types of stative expressions in (1)-(3) model-theoretically. It is typically assumed that stative verbs denote properties of stative eventualities; that (gradable) adjectives denote (functions from degrees to) properties of individuals; and that abstract mass nouns denote properties of individuals or individual kinds. This heterogeneity in the formal treatment of stative expressions provides the central question of this talk: can stative meanings be captured model-theoretically as a natural class across syntactic categories? The empirical focus of my research is cross-linguistic variation in the morphosyntax of stative constructions which, I argue, provides important clues to identifying the structures which underlie stative meanings universally. I draw heavily on my ongoing fieldwork on the Senegambian language Wolof, a language which exemplifies two different strategies for constructing statives which express gradable property concepts (concepts like tall, expensive, and happy which are prototypically associated with adjectives): some Wolof property concepts are lexicalized as stative verbal predicates, while others are lexicalized as mass nouns. I show that comparing the semantic properties of these stative expressions across categories points us towards a unified definition of statives as a natural class of meanings, and provides insight into the relationship between states and degrees in the semantic ontology.