Telicity and English Verb Classes and Alternations: An Overview

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Olsen, Mari Broman
This document reports on research conducted for the University of Maryland Machine Translation (MT) project. The primary focus of this investigation concerns the lexical aspect feature [+telic] (i.e., having an inherent end, as in the verb win, vs. the verb run) and its relation to the alternations outlined in (Levin, 1993), English verb classes and alternations. This work is based on the assumption that lexical aspect features need not be primitive but may be derived from the same semantic components that potentiate the alternations. Levin's 86 alternations and constructions are divided into five classes with respect to telicity: (i) alternations that indicate telicity (all participating verbs are [+telic] in their basic sense), (ii) alternations and constructions that add telicity (all participating verbs are [+telic] in the relevant construction), (iii) alternations that indicate atelicity (all participating verbs are [;telic] in their basic sense), (iv) alternations and constructions that are irrelevant with respect to (a)telicity (some participating verbs are [+telic] and others [;telic], and their categorization is not systematically affected by the relevant construction), and, for completeness, (v) a small number of alternations that cannot be classified. For alternations indicating telicity_category (i)_I examine the semantic components said to potentiate the alternations, and for alternations and constructions adding telicity_category (ii)_the semantic components added along with telicity. The results suggest a composite semantic basis for telicity, related to the notion of change of state (broadly defined), but not perfectly correlated with it. Other notions are also relevant, such as contextually typical degree, reciprocal action, and dynamicity, another lexical aspect feature. In addition, the study of categories (ii)-(iv) reveals that certain frames may be used for diagnosing atelicity, despite its generally variable behavior. This study also explores the relationship between transitivity and telicity, following suggestions in the work of Hopper and Thompson (1980), Tenny (1987; 1989; 1994), and van Hout (to appear), among others. (Also cross-referenced as UMIACS-TR-96-15) The research reported herein was supported, in part, by Army Research Office contract DAAL03-91-C-0034 through Battelle Corporation, NSF NYI IRI-9357731, Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow Award BR3336, and a General Research Board Semester Award.