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Title: Dynamic syntax account of argument realization in Mandarin
Author: Li, Wenshan
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2011
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Natural languages are systems of forms and meanings; language understanding and language production are processes of establishing mappings between linguistic forms and meanings. The principles and rules governing the mapping between semantic roles and syntactic positions have long been a fundamental topic in contemporary linguistics. Such a mapping is usually called argument realization, argument mapping or argument linking. On the basis of the previous language specific and cross linguistic researches on this issue, this thesis picks out two tasks. One is the empirical task of the investigating the principles and rules governing the mapping between semantic roles and linear syntactic positions in Mandarin Chinese. The other is the theoretical task of the exploration of how argument realization principles and rules play their roles in the live temporal linear comprehension and production of sentences. On the empirical side, this thesis mainly investigates the phenomenon of argument alternation, that is, the non-one-to-one mapping between semantic roles and syntactic forms (linear positions) in Mandarin and argues that alternative syntactic forms in which semantic roles are realized are not arbitrary but semantically motivated. More specifically, it proposes that alternative patterns of argument realization encode different types of events. This thesis concentrates on three major cases of argument alternation. The first is the argument alternation in the resultative verb construction (RVC) that involves two verbs and expresses a complex event consisting of a first (activity) subevent and a second (resultative) subevent. The arguments of the two verbs are mapped onto the subject and the object alternatively and the argument sharing between the verbs results from syntactically constrained pragmatic inference. The argument realization principles and rules of RVC are used to account for two puzzling cases of argument alternation in Mandarin, i.e. the locative alternation and the agentive alternation. This account of inverse argument realizations has the implication that argument alternations are semantically motivated rather than the result of arbitrary syntactic operation. To facilitate the discussion of how different semantic representations arise in different process of comprehension, I adopt Dynamic Syntax (Kempson et al 2001; Cann et al 2005) which provides a package of working hypotheses about human language grammars and the formal tools for representing how grammars work. It is hypothesized in Dynamic Syntax that the grammar of a natural language is a set of constraints over language comprehension; sentences are understood and produced in context through left-to-right word-by-word parsing processes. Parsing processes are driven by the axiomatic requirement of establishing complete logical forms that can be enriched to full propositions. Such processes have the characteristic of semantic underspecification, including underspecified semantic relationships and underspecified semantic contents; semantic underspecification can and must be updated through non-demonstrative inference implemented in linguistic and nonlinguistic contexts. Using the framework I hypothesize that in RVC constructions the first verb provides a condition on the sort of event expressed by the second verb, encoding this in terms of event semantics. It is argued that only the argument of the latter are required to be realized in the string (or be contextually strongly determined) through pro-drop. Those of the activity predicate, however, are inferred through pragmatic means given the arguments that are realized. This directly accounts for the attested patterns of argument realization in RVC and explain the apparent gaps. This analysis is extended to locative and agentive inversion constructions where it is hypothesized that there is null resultative predicate that explains why a non-agent can be realized as subject, even in the presence of a more agentive noun phrase in the string. This thesis thus maintains the hypothesis that the mapping between semantic roles and syntactic positions is direct though not one-to-one. Although there is no one-toone mapping between syntactic forms, the argument mapping rules can ensure efficient comprehension and production when they are applied in context. This thesis provides a uniform account of different argument alternation phenomena that have been seen as unrelated to each other in the literature. The successful uniform explanation of the ‘unrelated’ phenomena of argument alternation can be generalized as a methodology: a thorough semantic analysis of various alternative syntactic constructions can reveal the subtle semantic differences between them and the importance of these subtle semantic difference for a theorectic account of argumenty alternation has been largely underestimated in the literature. This constitutes the foundation of a uniform explanation of syntactic phenomena that seem to be unrelated to each other. This success lights the hope of seeking semantics-based uniform accounts of other different kinds of syntactic phenomena in a single language and across languages in future research.
Supervisor: Cann, Ronnie. ; Gisborne, Nikolas. Sponsor: China Scholarship Council ; University of Edinburgh
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: argument realization ; dynamic syntax ; resultative construction ; Mandarin