Keenan Colloquium

October 24
Harper 130
University of California, Los Angeles
Compositional Semantics vs. Arbitrary Syntax

We focus here on syntactic phenomena – Passive and Binding Theory – whose interest is, in part, semantically motivated (in distinction to extraction phenomena).  Generative grammarians tend to treat expressions of the relevant semantic relations – actives/passives, anaphors/antecedents – as syntactically fixed cross linguistically. We argue here that the active/passive relation and the anaphor/antecedent one, in narrow syntax, are cross linguistically variable and that the semantic relation follows from direct compositional semantic interpretation of (usually) syntactic non-isomorphic expression types.  So we need not design grammars so that Agents in actives and passive originate in the same structural configuration, nor do anaphors need to be c-commanded by their antecedents.  Rather, there are many languages with non-isomorphic grammars.

We also show that the morphological coding of the relevant semantic relations is structurally invariant, despite the relevant structures being non-isomorphic.