Polysemy and Syntax

Course time: 
Monday/Thursday 9:00-10:50 AM

Words are polysemous: a word typically has multiple related senses. The syntax of a word depends on its sense, so the patterns of polysemy are reflected in syntactic patterns. Or should it be seen the other way around? Perhaps the rules of syntax directly generate the different word senses, while also generating syntactic structures. The dialectic between these two approaches, lexicalist and syntactocentric, respectively, lies at the heart of much theoretical debate in syntactic theory. This course explores the relation between polysemy and syntax in an attempt to bridge those two views. First we ask how polysemy arises, exploring the historical processes of narrowing and broadening of meaning, which lead to autohyponymy as long as the earlier sense does not fall out of use. We will seek an explanation for these processes in the phenomenon of sense indeterminacy, that is, the fact that hypernym-hyponym pairs correlate across reference contexts. Then we turn to diathesis alternations, morphological processes such as causativization, and category conversions between verb, noun, and adjective. The course combines cross-linguistic description with a serious search for explanations.