DS-2000-07: Polysemy or monosemy: Interpretation of the imperative and the dative-infinitive construction in Russian

DS-2000-07: Fortuin, Egbert L.J. (2000) Polysemy or monosemy: Interpretation of the imperative and the dative-infinitive construction in Russian. Doctoral thesis, University of Amsterdam.

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In the literature there has been much debate concerning the question
of whether forms are essentially _monosemous_, that is, associated
with _one_ abstract meaning, or whether such abstractions are
principally underspecified; according to the latter approach, meanings
are essentially _polysemous_, that is, forms are associated with
different interrelated meanings. Many studies that deal with this
problem are highly theoretical, and do not support their empirical
claims with extensive analyses of specific empirical data. The focus
on the theoretical aspect of the phenomenon of meaning leads, in some
cases, to particular shortcomings. Monosemous approaches frequently
leave the process of interpretation of abstract meanings unexplained,
and in many cases definitions of meanings are so abstract that they
also describe oppositional forms. In polysemous analyses, however, the
criteria for distinguishing different uses are not always clear, and
intermediate uses are often not accounted for. Moreover, polysemous
analyses often fail to point at the shared features of different
interrelated uses, which may stand in opposition to other forms.

In this dissertation I provide further insight into the phenomenon of
polysemy versus monosemy by giving a detailed analysis of the
interaction between meaning and context against the background of the
semantic system in which the forms occur. The expressions that I
analyze are the imperative and the dative-infinitive (DI) construction
in modern Russian. The main aim of these analyses is to account for
the different uses of these forms/constructions.

In Chapter I, I give a short introduction to the dissertation. Before
analyzing the forms under discussion, in Chapter II I explain the
structure of meaning by discussing how meanings are learned, and how
they function in the linguistic structure. Following Bartsch (1999), I
argue that in order for the linguistic structure to be stable, it is
necessary that forms are associated with different concepts; however,
this is only possible if different perspectives enable the language
user to differentiate between them. It is also important that concepts
are not overextended under a perspective, and that the use of an
expression is delineated by oppositional forms. I further argue that
although forms are associated with different uses, it is possible in
many cases to abstract from these different uses on different levels,
and to define a general meaning. The general meaning can best be seen
as a _frame_ within which the different uses of an expression may
occur. Such a frame cannot be seen as a definition in the strict
sense, as it does not predict the possible uses of a word, but rather
describes the common features of a word, which may stand in opposition
to other uses. The notion of 'frame' points to two things: (i) the
frame can be seen as a _restriction_ on the use of a particular form,
or put differently, a restriction on the extensions of a particular
form, securing stability of the linguistic system; and (ii) it is
within the possibilities provided by the frame that _different uses
can be distinguished_. I also argue that it is not possible to give an
adequate answer the question of _when_ uses of a form can be seen as
different since there are no clear and discrete criteria for
distinguishing different uses.

The main part of the dissertation consists of a detialed analysis of
the Russian imperative and the Russian dative-infinitive
construction. In Chapter III, I discuss the meaning and use of the
Russian imperative. I define a basic meaning of the imperative that
can be seen as an abstraction from so-called 'directive' uses and
'hortative' uses. These uses have basic uses themselves, and
extensions from these basic uses by the process of selection, and
possibly cancelling of features under perspectives provided by
contexts. The process of extension by feature selection
(backgrounding, highlighting, cancelling) occurs in different degrees
(corresponding to the number of selected features), such that some
instances of the imperative can be seen as borderline cases between
different uses. The different uses should therefore be seen as _usage
types_. These usage types correspond to _context types_. Context types
are constituted by collections of formal features that correspond to
clear examples of different semantic types.

Although it is not possible to give a necessary and sufficient
definition for all the uses of the imperative it is possible to
abstract from the uses on different levels, and point at shared
features of the different imperative uses, that do not occur with
oppositional forms. The approach to the study of the imperative that I
advocate is an intermediate position between monosemous approaches and
polysemous approaches. It shares with monosemous approaches the idea
that some collection of features (viz. directivity) can be seen as a
necessary and sufficient condition for the correct understanding
(rather than correct use) of the imperative, and it shares with
polysemous approaches the idea that different uses have a more or less
independent status, and that can be analyzed in terms of extensions of
other uses.

In Chapter IV, I discuss the dative-infinitive construction. I show
how the different modal uses of the construction can be derived from
its component parts, and how the distribution of the construction can
be motivated by its meaning. I argue that the assignment of the dative
to the infinitive predicate is always connected to an RQWLF modal
meaning, that is, the realization of the infinitive situation by the
dative participant is presented as something which is accordance with
the normal or inevitable way things go, rather than as the result of
the intention of the dative participant. More specifically, I argue
that the idea of recipienthood of a situation presupposes an initial
information state where the dative participant is _not_ associated
with the realization of the infinitive situation (or in the case of
negation, where the dative participant _is_ associated with the
infinitive situation), which is then (implicitly) contradicted.

I argue that the verbal or predicative element of the construction
cannot be seen as a _meaning_, but must rather be seen as the
_interpretation_ that is the result of the association between the
non-expressed infinitive agent and the dative subject. It is therefore
incorrect to posit modal logic operators, or non-expressed modal
elements for the construction.

In my analysis I point at the shared features between the
dative-infinitive construction proper (with dative nouns or pronouns),
and the occurrence of the second dative. I argue that if the second
dative is analyzed as a special instance of the DI-construction, it is
possible to motivate its distribution. Such an analysis provides a
deeper level of understanding than syntactic analysis that do not take
meaning into account in a systemantic way (more specifically analyses
working within the framework of Generative Grammar, or Lexical
Functional Grammar). I will argue that these analyses are
characterized by the following shortcomings (i) non-motivated rules
are postulated to explain the linguistic phenomenon in question; (ii)
model-theoretic notions that are postulated as explanatory devices
have in fact no real explanatory value, because they are partly
defined in terms of the phenomena they aim to describe and explain,
(iii) linguistic phenomena that are formally unified (different
occurrences of the dative case) are treated as non-related phenomena,
such that arbitrary distinctions between linguistic data are made, and
(iv) the models do not adequately explain the occurrence of the second
dative, and make the wrong predictions.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Report Nr: DS-2000-07
Series Name: ILLC Dissertation (DS) Series
Year: 2000
Subjects: Language
Depositing User: Dr Marco Vervoort
Date Deposited: 14 Jun 2022 15:16
Last Modified: 14 Jun 2022 15:16
URI: https://eprints.illc.uva.nl/id/eprint/2019

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