Constructional Profiles as the Basis of Semantic Analysis
Constructional Profiles as the Basis of Semantic Analysis Suzanne Kemmer Rice University [email protected] Introduction Construction Grammar defines constructions as linguistic units that necessarily have some noncompositional semantics Constructions have some aspect of meaning that is not reducible to (or predictable from) its component parts (or other constructions) And, constructions are argued to be necessary as a
construct in any theory of grammar. Why do we need constructions? One argument for the indispensability of constructions in grammatical analysis comes from Coercion Effects (Michaelis 2002) Constructions and Coercion Constructions explain how certain expected semantic anomalies do not materialize. Give me some pillow! Elements in some sentences are expected
to clash by virtue of their incompatible semantics, based on their distribution outside the construction. Constructions override lexical meaning Constructions fill in semantic substance and overcome semantic incompatibility of component parts through override I slept my way across the Atlantic. Sleep -- lack of motion specification Sentence as a whole -- describes motion with concomitant sleeping
pit the cherries, dust the furniture, bone the filet conventionalized semantic elements added: motion, directionality Investigating constructional semantics We can investigate the semantics of constructions in various ways. Most relevant here: 1. Observation of distributional properties at sentence level; contrasts
Syntactic properties are diagnostics or clues to semantics (as per assumption of close nature of the syntax-semantics relation of CL) via acceptability patterns in arrays of minimally contrasting examples. Semantics can be investigated by observing lexical items in mainly clause level contexts and observing anomalies and compatibilities that make such utterances less or more acceptable. Lakoff (1987) and Langacker (1987, 1991) inter alia analyze constructions (also lexical items) using this methodology. 2. Observation of distributions of recurring elements in a construction in large samples of language use Investigating constructional semantics We should employ any methodologies that prove useful
Ideal: convergence of multiple sources of evidence gathered via different methodologies Second method gives insight into some semantic properties otherwise inaccessible (on assumption that frequency is a reflection of degree of entrenchment, which is itself a part of the system). What else can we get? Observing constructions also contributes to an understanding of the important mechanism of coercion How does it work? How and to what extent can it forestall
anomaly? Who uses corpora? Who uses large corpora for the cognitive semantic analysis of constructions? Consider: British, Scandinavian, and American schools: Sinclair, Stubbs, Stig Johanson, Hunston and Francis, Biber. Corpora yes, cognitive semantic analysis of constructions, no or minimal Construction Grammarians: Fillmore, Kay, Michaelis, Croft, Goldberg, and their students Corpora, no or not primarily; semantic analysis is largely done by the first method above
Results and ongoing research The Corpus-CG and Corpus-CL groups have in common: Bottom-up analyses of particular constructions. Visual inspection for patterns via keywords in context and sorting; typically statistical data Analysis of constructional semantics, identification of theoretical issues in CL/CG Inclusion of units at varying levels of specificity See: Rohde 2001; Boas 2002, Gries and Stefanowitsch 2002; Stefanowitsch and Gries 2003, Fried 2004; studies appearing in Achard and Kemmer 2004 and Oestman and Fried 2005; Hilpert (to appear a, to appear b); Taylor (to
appear) Diachrony Several diachronic studies in Cognitive Linguistics and, more recently,Construction Grammar, using corpora Carey 1994, Israel 1995, Ziegler 2002, Diewald, Gilquain 2004, Kemmer and Hilpert (forthcoming) Two perspectives Focus on individual lexemes
many analyses of 1980s and 1990s; still current polysemy networks containing linked senses of prepositions, cases, etc. Kemmer (1993) added links to conceptually neighboring concepts in a multidimensional semantic/conceptual space (constructions not foregrounded) Focus on the construction as the unit of observation Integration of lexical semantic information with constructional specifications Item-based vs. construction-based Lexical perspective continues a venerable tradition of focus on words Words (more precisely: lexical roots) are
certainly salient cognitive units Speakers access word meaning much more easily than meaning of linguistic units of other sizes or greater schematicity sublexical morphemes, constructions, sentences BUT: there are some very good reasons for the switch to viewing linguistic knowledge from a constructional perspective. Motivating the constructional view Traditional polysemy networks, although focusing on lexical items, actually require observation of lexemes in larger chunks of language
The standard methodology for distinguishing word senses is to posit different linguistic contexts in which the senses become clearly disambiguated Linked senses are structured by relative closeness of senses as determined by the closeness of the relations of the contextualized examples (representing types of uses) Example: the ring on my finger vs. he was knocked right out of the ring the desired sense is the only one compatible with the surrounding material. Thus: Distribution of lexical items in larger structures is how we can tell the range of senses/uses of a lexical item
Senses often correlate with constructions For relational units, the various senses of a given lexical unit are actually associated with constructions. Static vs. dynamic senses of the English prepositions are parts of constructions that express static and dynamic spatial senses over (the hill) : hovered over the hill, flew over the hill Prep NP : V-static over NP, V-motion over NP Senses of verbs are in most cases correlated with different constructions (e.g. roll (tr., caused motion) vs. roll (intr., autonomous motion)
Following Goldberg (1995), Construction Grammarians reject positing extra verb senses an extra sense for sneeze in she sneezed the napkin off the table seems absurd Bidirectional links But Langacker (2003) points out: there are many verbs that have a strong associative link to a particular construction. give is extremely frequent in the ditransitive compared to other verbs The ditransitive construction is extremely frequent with give. The usage-based model predicts, based on frequency, that there is a
highly conventionalized link to the ditransitive that is part of our knowledge of give. If so, give is an access point to the ditransitive construction and its associated frame Hypothesis: The links between lexical item and constructions reach in both directions We posit both nodes as units if both are conventionalized. Give may activate the ditransitive just as the construction primes the word. The usage-based model In the usage-based model, links in a linguistic knowledge network are viewed as activation pathways with potentially bidirectional activation flows (cf. Lamb 2000)
Predicts that strongly entrenched links could potentially go in either direction. Converges with findings from neurology suggesting that links between neurons and between cortical columns have physically distinct pathways that can have differential activation strength. Predictions Viewing the links as potentially bidirectional makes some predictions: It should be possible for there to be dissociation between the relative strengths of an activation path directed from a lexical item to a construction, and another in the opposite direction. Evidence from distributional studies show that some individual verbs occur very frequently in a
particular construction, like wriggle in the way construction (the baby wriggled its way out of the playpen) and not at all often, relatively speaking, outside the construction. Other examples in Gries and Stefanowitsch 2005. The usage-based model Conversely, a verb like make occurs frequently in the construction, but only as a function of its high overall frequency. Thus, affinity to the way construction not as tight Prediction: wriggle should have a stronger priming effect on the construction than make.
Psycholinguistic evidence: Goldberg 2004 for give and ditransitive Still, the way construction does have a strong link to make. Prediction: The construction allows a wide range of verbs, but given no special semantic properties the speaker desires to convey, the speaker is likely to choose make over other possibilities because s/he has a great deal of experience of that choice, which effectively increases, by repeated memory, the likelihood of activation of make --unless there is some overriding reason to make another choice (desire to express manner of motion, for example). I think of this as long-term priming. More on preference for constructions: Constructions and events
Argument structure constructions are used to form more event-sized conceptualizations than single words. Such constructions are likely to be rather crucial units relied on by speakers to make an intial chunking of reality into a manageable and manipulable portion of conceptual structure, as suggested by Talmy 2000. If this is true, then starting from the construction and investigating it with regard to what smaller units occur in it habitually/conventionally is more likely to result in an analysis that is something like what the speaker knows about how words are used. The speakers main experience with word usage, in fact, even from the earliest childhood, is in the context of larger utterances that the adult uses before child can even talk: generally speaking, constructions.
Constructions and events The constructional perspective puts us into the realm of meaning which is much more like the kinds of meanings that speakers deal more normally with in language use. It is difficult for speakers to define either words or constructions When they do try to define words, they have to activate memories of contexts similar to those in which they heard the word used, i.e. they have to try to come up with an imagined context similar to one they experienced, or an actual remembered context for the usage. Novice linguists sometimes try to imagine a situational context without
a linguistic context, which gives them much more trouble coming up with accurate usage generalizations. They have to be trained to think of specific linguistic utterances that will allow them to more precisely explore the word in something more like the typical contexts in which they have heard it, and in which it contributes to an overall semantically integrated conceptualization. It is an empirical fact that speakers most typically process constructions in usage, and not isolated words, given that most conversation occurs in construction-like chunks and not in isolated words. Constructions and processing Constructions have more utility to speakers for choosing compatible lexical items to use with the construction than vice versa.
In the process of arguing for the necessity of constructions in grammatical theory, some important empirical findings about constructions have emerged (Goldberg 2004): But: by hypothesis, lexical elements which hardly occur outside the construction can trigger it, so that the effects might go the other way. Speakers use constructions to interpret lexical items Argument structure constructions aid children to learn new words These findings make perfect sense if we accept the view that constructions are extremely important in language processing, even if they are below the level of consciousness (like most grammatical units). For purposes of guiding the precise activation links that will allow instantaneous accessing of appropriate lexical items,
constructions, on this view, would be crucial processing units. Rohde 2001 Study of the relations between lexical items and constructions that used substantial corpora as a basis for drawing cognitive semantic conclusions about those relations Rohde investigated a large range of English motion verbs and their co-occurrence patterns with a range of prepositions in a [motion verb + preposition + NP] schematic construction frame. Found strong distributional correlations between motion verbs and particular prepositions; and in fact with particular senses of the prepositions, essentially
corresponding to particular constructions. Results showed that particular verbs have affinities for particular prepositions and vice versa (and--links have different strengths as measured by frequency.) Rohde 2001 Patterns of affinity were also found at a more general level, involving verb classes defined by particular semantic properties. Affinity patterns reflect entrenched semantic properties of particular units Heightened compatibility makes the lexical items more likely to be used in the constructions; reduced compatibility reduces the frequency of the less compatible item. Compatibility has a strong effect on frequency.
For example, the verb escape occurs extremely frequently with source prepositions like from. Most other motion verbs in English prefer goal prepositions, with varying degrees of preference. Rohde concluded that a source (rather than goal) image schema is strongly conventionally linked with the lexical item escape. We can also take the constructional point of view of the same phenomenon and say that the semi-specified construction [X escape PREP N] is strongly conventionally linked with source prepositions, whereas a similar construction with go is linked with goal prepositions. Coercion in action Evidence for the key role of constructions in constructing meaning comes from acceptability judgments. It has been demonstrated that constructions coerce lexical items interpretations (Michaelis 2002 and refs.), whereas the
opposite has not been demonstrated. Example of semantic incompatibility: I walked into the room. *I squinted into the room. [supposed to be badand is if one is thinking of the caused motion construction] Coercion (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) Now consider: She She She She She
looked into the room. squinted into the room. squinted through the window. squinted through her glasses. peered through her glasses. (1) expresses an event of directed vision. (2) has a context involving a somewhat similar visual event for squint. Its better than it was on previous slide. Subsequent sentences get better and better. Why? Coercion explained
The frame semantics of squinting are associated with a typical purpose of squinting; to make ones vision better temporarily by deforming the cornea with the surrounding eye muscles. Squinting, then, often occurs to improve vision that is somehow impaired, possibly in part due to a barrier to vision such as intervening dirty window glass. The more overtly we add a barrier to visibility to the context, the more we improve semantic compatibility and thus the better the sentence sounds. Claim: these sorts of acceptability judgments tap into some speaker knowledge relating knowledge of lexical items to constructions. (That knowledge itself was originally derived from experience using those lexical items in larger constructions). If true, we would expect that speaker knowledge to be also reflected in frequency patterns. In fact we predict the following: Predictions (requiring testing)
An increasing degree of semantic distance of a lexical item (i.e. it contains some incompatibility) from a conventional construction type will increase unacceptability of the particular lexical item in the construction increase need for additional linguistic context with additional elements that highlight some compatible semantic feature of the target item, if that item is to be produced or interpreted as acceptable. This is the implicit basis of many linguistic arguments for semantics of particular elements. More predictions If an utterance is ambiguous, increasing distance/incompatibility should decrease the likelihood that the reading with greater semantic
incompatibility will be chosen. Decrease likelihood of production (compared with more compatible units) Decrease frequency of production (compared with more compatible units) Extra contextual information (linguistic or just situational) needed for production. I gave it a little kick. I gave the lever (on the handlebar) a little kick with my thumb. Problems
How to quantify, or at least operationalize how to judge, degree of semantic similarity/difference, closeness/distance, compatibility/incompatibility. How to corroborate: Linguists interested in semantics can usually come up with an analysis that is intuitively satisfying, but little psycholinguistic experimentation has been done Productivity: When is coercion OK, when not? Individual variation Relation of innovation of an extension and its spread Testability Unfortunately, the last two predictions, about the decreasing likelihood of production (and hence decreasing frequency) are rarely examined. The subtle contrasts used by linguists to test the
boundaries of a construction are rarely present in corpora, because as phenomena near the boundary there are not likely to be many instances, if any. However, we can still make the prediction and with a large enough corpus, it should be borne out if the assumptions about the relation of usage and linguistic knowledge are correct. Potential problems Why dont Construction Grammarians in general try to determine the semantics of constructions they work on by examining the lexical items that occur in them most often? Why is this left to a few Corpusconstruction people? Possible reasons:
Not all constructions occur with specific recurrent lexical items (or classes of items). (but even some surprisingly , general argument structure constructions do, like the passive) Potential problems Or, it might be more serious: Construction Grammarians (unlike Cognitive Linguistics) often do not take the usage-based model to heart and concern themselves with mechanisms of production and interpretation. Construction grammar analyses and theoretical descriptions simply do not bring processing considerations into the picture.
Possibly this is because Construction Grammarians are agnostic about what exactly happens when language is used. Backgrounding of processing aspects to CG may be the real reason that it is so rare to encounter investigations which use frequency data by most Construction Grammarians. Corpus-Construction Grammarians and Corpus Cognitive Linguists The small community of Corpus-Construction Grammarians also are by and large strong cognitivists familiar with the implications of the usage-based model for the theoretical side of the model, and not just for selection of data. So they, along with Corpus Cognitive Linguists, are prepared to use corpora seriously to discover the cognitive semantics associated with constructions.
The make-causative The make-causative shows strongly marked distributional asymmetries suggesting it is not a generalized causative construction, but instead has specific semantic properties. 3 senses of the make causative construction in English mechanical action we need to make it work emotional reaction it made me feel good compulsion make you cant make me marry him
Frequency patterns of animacy of causer and causee shows clusterings of 3 senses. (Kemmer 2001; 2005) The make-causative The make causative has its own unique constructional profile of elements that typically occur with it and which relate to its function as a construction. These characteristic distribution patterns are found with many constructions (e.g. English passive; Dutch laten and doen causatives; German lassen causative; English let and have causatives; into causative, split infinitives, Swedish future) Also, distributional observation of the predicate complements of make
causative show a relatively narrow range of complements. The set of verbs with the widest range of predicates, correlating semantically with the compulsion use, is the least frequent in type frequency and overall token frequency. But most predicates are far more restricted, falling into a number of semantic subclasses, but grouping into just 2 main classes (mechanical action; emotional reaction). These also correlate with the clusterings of animacy causer/causee types. Thus we have two pieces of formal, distributional evidence that fingerprint the construction; their interpretation results in a unique semantic profile: the constructional semantics of the make causative. The make-causative Moreover, the make causative shows some interactional effects between the predicates selected in it, and the senses of those predicates.
The make causative effectively constrains the interpretation of the predicates, where they are polysemous. For example, In And I worked It worked The default readings are senses of work that respectively correlate with the animate and inanimate subjects in the examples.
The make-causative However, in the make causative, the sense of work that occurs cannot be predicted from the animacy of the causee: It really made it work. It really made him work. In the causative construction, the second example is at best ambiguous, but more likely to be interpreted as mechanical action make rather than social compulsion make. The make-causative Such coercion effects reveal the nature of make + OBJ + INF as a conventionalized construction
specifically support the analysis of the make causative as being primarily about mechanical action causation, and secondarily its extension emotive reaction causation. the least motivated (entrenched) sense of the make causative is one which a human is acting on another human to socially compel him/her to do what the causer wishes to be done. The normal sense of work (voluntarily perform labor) is suspended here because the entrenched constructional semantics induce a reading of involuntary, mechanical action. The sentence could perhaps be used that way, but it would take some supporting semantic factors that were coherent with a social frame of strong social force. This would be required to overcome the slight semantic incompatibility of the construction with the normal sense of work
that is found with human subjects. The historical dimension We can also observe the history of the make causative. In this history we find support for the 3 senses of the current construction, and find their progressive emergence as distinct senses. When we examine the history of the construction, we find that the construction did not always occur with its current constructional profile. In fact, in the earliest days in our data, make was primarily a main verb taking
nominal and adjectival predicates. It began to take infinitives in early middle English (the do-causative was fading by then), but as an early causative construction it was principally (most frequently in type and token frequency) used with the Mechanical Action type of predicates. Although all 3 senses were apparently attested, the primary use as attested by frequency was the Mechanical action. As time went on, emotion predicates began to dominate, as they still do today, but the number of compulsion predicates began to move past the one or two found in the earlier periods. Furthermore, we find the beginnings of coercion effects as the construtcion begins to exert an interpretational effect on the senses of verbs like work and look. Effectively, it begins to coerce its component elements to become more compatible with its own developing semantics. The historical dimension The historical dimension
Observing the history of make in this way allows us to see for the first time how a construction emerges by gradual extension by speakers until we can see the construction exert a coercion effect which itself motivates the analysis of the make causative as a full-fledged construction. The development followed a trajectory of a changing constructional profile in terms of preferred predicates and predicate types. The changing constructional profile is itself both a symptom and a mechanism of change, because speakers are sensitive to frequency and the changing frequency will have the effect of inducing them to reorganize the construction into one increasingly resembling the modern make causative in its constructional profile and its semantic characteristics, including coercive force. Conclusions--Utility of Constructional Profiles
Observing constructional profiles from large sets of usage data allows us to draw conclusions about the semantics of a construction Examining diachronic changes in constructional profile shed light on the emergence of the construction Conclusions: Coercion; diachrony We can find early evidence for the conventionalization of a construction by pinpointing the first visible instances of coercion. These show that the construction has acquired some semantics of its own that can override semantic anomalies. Constructions are a fruitful perspective for not only synchronic, but diachronic investigation.
Acknowledgments Thanks to Martin Hilpert; Michael Barlow References Achard, Michel, and Suzanne Kemmer, eds. 2004. Language, culture and mind. Stanford: CSLI Publications. Barlow, Michael, and Suzanne Kemmer, eds. 2000. Usage Based Models of Language. Stanford: CSLI Publications. Hilpert, Martin. To appear (a). On Swedish future constructions. Proceedings of the High Desert Linguistic Society Meeting. Albuquerque: HDLS. Hilpert, Martin. To appear (b). Collograms in the English split infinitive and other grammatical constructions. Constructions. Special issue on Collostructional Analysis. Kemmer, Suzanne. 2001. Causative constructions and cognitive models: The Make Causative.The First Seoul International Conference on Discourse and Cognitive Linguistics: Perspectives for the 21st Century, 803-846. Seoul: Discourse and Cognitive Linguistics Society of Korea. Kemmer, Suzanne and Martin Hilpert. 2005. Constructional grammaticalization in
the English make-causative. Presented at ICHL in Madison, Wisc. August 2005. Kemmer, Suzanne and Arie Verhagen. 1994. The grammar of causatives and the conceptual structure of events. Cognitive Linguistics 5(2), 115-156. Lakoff, George. 1987. Women, fire and dangerous things. Case studies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Langacker, Ronald. 1987,1991. Foundations of Cognitive Grammar Vols I and II. References, cont. Michaelis, Laura A. 2005. Entity and event coercion in a symbolic theory of syntax. In Jan-Ola Oestman and Miriam Fried, eds., Construction Grammar(s): Cognitive Grounding and Theoretical Extensions. (Constructional Approaches to Language 3.) Amsterdam: Benjamins, 45-88. Stefanowitsch, Anatol, and Stefan Gries. 2003. Collostructions: Investigating the interaction of words and constructions. International Journal of Corpus Linguistics 8, 209-243. Taylor, Christopher. To appear. The X to where Y construction. Proceedings of the 31st Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistic Society (BLS 31, 2005). Berkeley: BLS.
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