The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LingLunch 4/15 - Aniko Csirmaz

Speaker: Aniko Csirmaz (University of Utah) Title: Degree achievements – achieving specific aspectual properties

Time: Thurs 4/1, 12:30-1:45
Place: 32-D461

Degree achievements verbs (DAs, Dowty 1979), which include ‘dry’, ‘darken’, ‘cool’ and ‘narrow’, can appear in different types of event descriptions. For some DAs, the telicity of the event description can vary: ‘the soup cooled’ can be telic or atelic, and accordingly permit modification by ‘in an hour’ and ‘for an hour’, respectively. Intuitively, ‘the soup cooled in an hour’ describes an event where at the conclusion of the event, the soup attained a specific temperature — a temperature suitable for eating, for instance. The atelic ‘the soup cooled for an hour’ describes an event where the temperature of the soup decreased somewhat, but it does not need to have reached a specific temperature. This characterization suggests that telic interpretation requires the availability of a specific adjectival value; a maximal or contextually determined endpoint of the adjectival scale. For the atelic interpretation, any change along the scale is sufficient. It is predicted that for DAs where the adjectival scale lacks an endpoint (eg. ‘widen’), only an atelic interpretation is available. Accordingly, in absence of a salient contextually defined endpoint, ‘the road widened’ can only be atelic (cf. discussions in Kennedy and Levin 2008, Kearns 2007, a.o.).

In contrast with the these observations about the correlation between telicity and the nature of adjectival scales, I argue that the scale does not necessarily determine whether a telic interpretation is available. I show that Hungarian event descriptions unambiguously determine telicity, irrespective of the closed or open nature of the adjectival scale. For a closed scale DA, some event descriptions permit only an atelic interpretation, and for open scale DAs, some event descriptions can only be telic. I propose a treatment of telicity where the endpoint of the adjectival scale and the endpoint of an event (which yields telicity) are kept distinct, and telicity amounts to lack of continuation for an event.

I also show that Hungarian event descriptions with DAs can differ in another respect: in the argument that is homomorphic to the event. The event can be homomorphic either to the adjectival scale or to the affected argument; a given event description is also unambiguous in this respect.

Finally, I address verb particles in some detail; in Hungarian, it is these particles which yield event descriptions that are unambiguous with respect to telicity and the homomorphic argument.