Complex predicate puzzles | SOAS University of London

This seminar titled « Complex predicate puzzles » was given by Miriam Butt (Konstanz) at the Department of Linguistics at SOAS University of London on 11 December 2017
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This talk brings out several puzzles that still remain unsolved with respect to complex predicates. For one, there is the perennial issue of identifying a complex predicate (vs. instances of modality, auxiliation or serial verb constructions). For another, there is the issue of how to adequately represent the complex subevental structure of complex predicates and how to deal with attendant in issues of argument merger or argument sharing. Finally, there is the diachronic dimension. Contra Hook and Pardeshi (2001, 2006), Butt and Lahiri (2013) claim that aspectual V-V complex predicates are a diachronically stable construction in Indo-Aryan and that this observation carries over to other language families as well. That is, unlike with negation, complementizer formation or case marking, there is no evidence for a cycle of Existence-Loss-Reemergence (cf.~Jespersen’s cycle for negation). Butt and Lahiri claim that this has to do with the lexical semantic nature of these complex predicates and, in particular, with the type of event predication involved.
However, their claim leaves unexplained the rise in frequency of aspectual V-V complex predicates observed by Hook and Pardeshi. Furthermore, historical data suggests that the rise in frequency may be connected to the demise of verbal particles. These observations give rise to (at least) the following questions: 1) Given current conceptions/analyses of event semantics lexical semantics, how can the right predictions for the diachronic data be made? 2) Does the historical persistence observed for aspectual V-V complex predicates carry over to other types of complex predicates (i.e., permissives, causatives, N-V, Adj-V, P-V complex predicates)? If not, what accounts for this? Bowern (2008) suggests that while Butt and Lahiri’s claim holds up generally cross linguistically, different types of complex predicates must be differentiated and that some types are indeed subject to historical change.
This talk takes up Bowern’s observation and shows that even assuming the relatively strictly defined approach to complex predicates as articulated in Butt (1995, 2010), not all complex predicates are created equal and that the main difference lies in the type of event structuring and predication. Overall the purpose of the talk is identify the areas that continue to pose a challenge for research on complex predicates and to suggest a way forward.
About the speaker
Prof. Miriam Butt received her PhD in 1994 from Stanford University. After working at the Universities of Tuebingen, Stuttgart, Konstanz and at UMIST, Manchester as a researcher and lecturer, in 2003 she took up a professorship for general and computational linguistics at the University of Konstanz. She is interested in theories and architectures of grammars and has worked mostly on morphosyntactic phenomena from South Asian languages and how they interface with semantics, discourse interpretation and prosody. In particular, she has worked on theories of argument structure and case, with special reference to complex predication. Butt has written and co-authored several books, among them a Cambridge textbook on case (Theories of Case). In recent years, she has engaged in a cooperation with Visual Analytics researchers and has been working on Visualizations for linguistic structure.
About the event
This talk is sponsored by the AHRC-funded Lexicography in Motion project, PI Ulrich Pagel (Religion and Philosophies).