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Underspecified verbs?

From:jesse stephen bangs <jaspax@...>
Date:Wednesday, May 16, 2001, 21:54
Hey y'all.  I've been noodling on a weird little linguistics problem
recently, and I can't decide whether this syntactic system I've designed
is plausible.  Since I don't really know much about syntax formally, I
thought I'd ask the list.

Short version (just answer this if you're busy or lazy):

Essentially, my question is this: would it be plausible for a language to
have verbs be vastly underspecified syntactically, but to have nouns be
massively overspecified?  The system I have in mind would have a very
small verbal vocabulary supplemented by a large nominal case system which
would do the work for the verbs.  No verbs would have specified valency,
and would be fairly fluid in meaning depending on the nouns associated
with them.  Is this plausible?

Long version:

The system I've designed has six different core noun cases, operating
across three different semantic variables.  The variables are Intention,
Causation, and Participation, and the various roles that I have are:

          Intent.    Cause.    Part.
Actor       +          +        +
Agent       -          +        +
Participant -          -        +
Origin      -          +        -
Causant     +          +        -
Object      -          -        -

These would allow for a wide variety of meanings operating off of the same
root.  Here's a few theoretical examples of what I could do with a root
generally indicating "see":

John.ACT see dog.OBJ
John looks for the dog (and find him).
"Look for" in this case because John is an actor, and therefore must have
intended and caused the action.  The dog is an object because he doesn't
do anything.

John.PART see dog.ORIGIN
John happens to see the dog.
Here "happens to see" because neither party intends the action.  The
dog is the Origin because he "causes" the action (by coming into John's
field of view or something) and John is the Participant because someone
has to see the dog.

John.ACT see dog.PART
John looks at the dog (and the dog looks back).
Here John intends to look at the dog and causes the action to happen, and
the dog participates by looking back.

Mary.CAUS John.PART see dog.OBJ
Mary makes John see the dog.
Here Mary intends and causes, but does not participate in the action.
John participates but does not intend or cause, and the dog just sits

Etc, etc.  Does this seem plausible?  Are there any natlangs with a
similar system?  Other comments?

Jesse S. Bangs

"If you look at a thing nine hundred and ninety-nine times, you are
perfectly safe; if you look at it the thousandth time, you are in
frightful danger of seeing it for the first time."
--G.K. Chesterton


J Matthew Pearson <pearson@...>
daniel andreasson <daniel.andreasson@...>
Tom Tadfor Little <tom@...>