The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LF Reading Group 4/12 - Mitya Privoznov (MIT)

Speaker: Mitya Privoznov (MIT)
Title: CAUSE and causation in verb semantics. A modal account
Time: Wednesday, April 12th, 1pm – 2pm


In this talk, I will discuss the causation component in the lexical semantics of verb-like elements. More specifically, I will talk about four types of lexical items: (1) actuality entailing modals (see, e.g., Nadathur 2019, 2020); (2) verbs ‘make’ and ‘let’ (see, e.g., Raffy 2021); (3) morphological causatives (see, e.g., Lyutikova et al. 2006); (4) accomplishments (see, e.g., Dowty 1979, Kratzer 1996, Pylkkanen 2002, Ramchand 2008, Tatevosov 2008). All four of them have been argued to involve a causation component in their lexical meaning. Usually, causation is analyzed either as a relation between propositions (e.g., Dowty 1979) or events (e.g., Davidson 1967, Parsons 1990, Harley 1996, Pylkkanen 2002, Ramchand 2008) or as a force, which constitutes a separate ontological entity (e.g., Copley and Wolff 2014, Copley and Harley 2015, Raffy 2021). In the talk, I will try to argue for a modal account of the causation component in the lexical semantics of these items. According to this account, a causal operator is a modal quantifier with variable force (universal or existential) and fixed flavor. It is anchored to a situation (in terms of Kratzer 2007) and its domain of quantification includes all the causal chains initiated by the counterparts of the anchor situation in different possible worlds. I will try to show that this account adequately accounts for (1) the entailment relations between different causative predicates (e.g., ‘make’ and ‘let’, different interpretations of causatives); (2) underspecification of the causing situation (Agent vs. Causer theta-role, the causation by omission reading); and finally (3) the distribution of (anti)-actuality and (anti)-culmination entailments across aspectual contexts and negation.