Tuesday, October 23, 2007

An analysis of 'exempt'

I've just started a new blog for a dissertation support group at SUNY Buffalo. This is a copy of a post I put over there. I'm analyzing constructions involving a class of verbs Len Talmy named 'barrier verbs' like ban, prevent, and protect. Here’s one interesting tidbit about a word that is some what barrier-like: by a large margin, the word exempt most often occurs as a predicate adjective in copula constructions (hence, it is POS tagged JJ) as in the BNC example below.

“In certain circumstances, the vehicle will also be exempt from Vehicle Excise Duty Road Tax.”

Code: A0J
Genre: W_misc
Subject: W_nat_science
Medium: m_pub

(TOP (S (PP (IN In) (NP (JJ certain) (NNS circumstances) (, ,))) (NP (DT the) (NN vehicle)) (VP (MD will) (ADVP (RB also)) (VP (VB be) (ADJP (JJ exempt) (PP (IN from) (NP (NN Vehicle) (NN Excise) (NN Duty) (NN Road) (NN Tax) (. .))))))))

First Pass Analysis: the word exempt is like open, it can either be a state or an accomplishment, but it is most highly salient as a state.

  1. the door was open
  2. the door was opened (by X)
  1. the organization was exempt
  2. the organization was exempted (by X)
The passive sentences have an accomplishment reading. But these are rare. I think the reason the overwhelming majority of occurrences of the word exempt in the BNC are predicate adjectives is because the outcome state is the salient aspect of the event of exempting. The actor of the exempting event is almost irrelevant (it's typically a law: not animate, not volitional, indirect causer).

Contrast this with a speech act barrier verb like to bar:
  1. A judge barred Britney Spears from seeing her children.
In (1), the actor of the barring event is an animate, volitional, direct causer.

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