A Semantics for Groups and Events

Garland (1990)
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Abstract

This dissertation provides a model-theoretic semantics for English sentences atttributing a property or action to a group of objects, either collectively or distributively. It is shown that certain adverbial expressions select for collective predicates; therefore collective and distibutive predicates must be distinguishable. This finding is problematic for recent accounts of distributive predicates which analyze such predicates as taking group-level arguments, and hence as not distinguishable from collective predicates. ;A group-level treatment of distributives is possible, however, if predicate denotations are relativized to a set of events for which a part/whole relation is defined. An event in which a group performs an action distributively will have subevents in which each of the group's members perform the same action; an event in which the group performs the action collectively will not. ;This analysis also makes possible an account of the fact that adverbials expressing collective action commonly have an additional use expressing spatial proximity, both in English and cross-linguistically. . A spatial "trace" function on the set of events allows formal definitions for the spatial uses of such adverbials to exactly parallel the definitions for the collectivizing uses. ;The dissertation also provides arguments for a set-theoretic model for plurality, in which the group membership relation is distinct from the subgroup relation. ;Certain quantifiers are shown sensitive to distinction between different sorts of group-level event. To accommodate this fact, it is suggested that verbal denotations provide, for each event, both an "inclusion set" and an "exclusion set"--corresponding roughly to positive and negative denotations. If the inclusion and exclusion sets are allowed under certain circumstances not to complement each other, correct results obtain. ;The splitting of verbal denotations into inclusion and exclusion sets also allows the solution of certain problems in previous accounts of the semantics of subject-verb agreement for number. The dissertation closes with a defense of the hypothesis that agreement is conditioned primarily by the semantics

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Peter Nathan Lasersohn
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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