Do the meanings of abstract nouns correlate with the meanings of their complementation patterns?
A case study on English commissive shell nouns
There is a widespread assumption in Construction Grammar (but also before and elsewhere) that the meanings of verbs correlate with or even determine their complementation forms and patterns. There is much less research on noun complementation, however, although this category is even more interesting for a number of reasons such as the potential for valency reduction, nominal topicalization constructions, and additional complementation options, e.g. of-PPs and existential constructions.In this paper we focus on the class of nouns reporting commissive illocutionary acts (promise, offer, pledge, refusal, bet, threat, etc.), and address the question of whether there is a correlation (i) between the meaning of these nouns and their preferred complementation patterns, and (ii) between their semantic similarity and their similarity in the distribution of complementation patterns.We report the results of a study of a set of 17 commissive nouns chosen from a wider collection of illocutionary nouns. Two types of analysis were carried out in order to compare the semantic and grammatical characteristics of these nouns. The semantic analysis was based on insights from speech act theory and the philosophy of language. We developed a framework for a systematic comparative description of the nouns in our word field. The results were tallied with a corpus-based grammatical analysis. Two hundred tokens of each noun type were randomly sampled from the Corpus of Contemporary American English. Using these data, the 17 nouns were subjected to an analysis of the relative frequencies of their complementation patterns.Results indicate a general match between noun meanings and complementation patterns. More specifically, however, they indicate that the closeness of this match depends on the prototypicality of nouns as members of the class of commissives.
The study, then, contributes to our understanding of the relation between lexis and syntax. At the same time, it confirms the need for a close semantic analysis to account for the great extent to which item-specific information, i.e. properties of individual nouns, have to be taken into consideration at the expense of large-scale generalizations.
- 2.Theoretical background
- 4.Analysis and results
- 4.1Semantic analysis
- 4.2Grammatical analysis: Descriptive statistics
- 4.2.1Uses in shell-noun function
- 4.2.2Major patterns
- 4.2.3Minor patters
4.3Visualization of similarities in grammatical distribution
- Author contributions
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