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Re: Boiling Polysemy

From:Tim May <butsuri@...>
Date:Tuesday, December 27, 2005, 0:21
Peter Bleackley wrote at 2005-12-23 10:46:40 (+0000)
    > In the sentences
 a) > I boil water
 b) > I boil the kettle
 c) > I boil an egg
 d) > The kettle boils water
 e) > The kettle boils
 f) > Water boils
    > the word "boil" means something different each time. I'm
    > thinking of having more than one word for boil in Khangaþyagon,
    > and having a bit of fun with which sense I assign to each one.
    > Pete

I'm not sure that I analyse the English in quite the same way.  To my
mind there are only three senses here:

1. (Of a liquid) - to boil.* (f, e)
2. Causative of 1. (a, b, d)
3. To cook something in boiling liquid. (c)

Between (f) and (e), and between (a) and (b), I think the difference
is not in the verb "boil", but in the meaning of the subject NP - "the
kettle" in (e) simply doesn't refer to a kettle in the same way that
"water" in (f) refers to water.  Rather "the kettle" stands for the
water in the kettle, by the rhetorical figure called metonymy (at
least, I think it's metonymy, I've never been quite straight on

For (a) and (d), obviously there's a number of differences between the
relation of the speaker to the water and that of the kettle to the
water, but I think they both fall within the category of causation (of
boiling), and the English verb just doesn't make those distinctions of
animacy, volition, directness, instrumentality etc. that seperate the
two instances.  So I don't think it really counts as polysemy in the
English case (though I'm not sure I can explain why).  But of course
those are the kind of distinctions that another language, such as
Khangaþyagon, might make grammatically.

Incidentally, having defined these three senses, a fourth possibility
is suggested:

4. To cook in boiling liquid.

which stands in the same relation to 3 as 1 does to 2, so 3 is the
causative of 4 (or perhaps 4 is the middle of 3).  It's harder to come
up with a good example with this sense in natural-sounding English**,
but something like

g)  The sausages have been boiling in wine for the past 10 minutes.

should serve well enough to demonstrate its grammaticality.

*  In principle it's not a good idea to define a word in terms of
   itself, but I don't want to get into a detailed physical definition
   of what "boil" means, which isn't really the issue here.  The point
   is that in this sense it's the subject which is undergoing the
   actual process of boiling.

** In most cases I either get something which could be interpreted as
   metonymy, or a passive use of sense 3 sounds much more likely.