Wednesday, August 14, 2013

barrier verb construction and selectional preferences

This is the third in a series of post detailing data and analysis from my not-quite-entirely-completely-achieved linguistics dissertation (one here, two here).

The Barrier Verb Construction Template
I will use the term construction loosely to mean a syntactic template composed of slots which constrain their fillers syntactically or semantically. Barrier verbs fit into the following general constructional template:

NP1 verb-bar NP2 from/against NP3/VP

In this construction, the syntactic subject of a barrier verb (NP1) is either the agent which wields the barrier as an instrument, or the instrument itself. NP2 is the goal-directed participant and the complement NP3/VP represents the goal or outcome. For example, in both sentences below the government impedes the refugees from achieving their goal of entering the country.

  • The government barred the refugees from the country.
  • The government barred the refugees from entering the country.

Note that the event of entering the country can be represented by the NP the country and is presupposed to be intended, but not yet achieved (I assume some sort of coercion process allows for the event interpretation.). The PP complement in this construction involves either the preposition from or against (Not all barrier verbs allow the against alternation; this will be taken up in a later post) and represents the goal.

Many of the verbs I identify as barrier verbs occur in other lexical-semantic classifications like Levin (1993), FrameNet, Korhonen and Briscoe (2004), Brew, and Bresnen. For example, Korhonen and Briscoe list a FORBID class which includes prohibit and ban and a LIMIT class which includes restrict and restrain. Yet, no classification to date has recognized a single, natural class of barrier verbs which exhibit the properties this dissertation discusses. This is a reminder that no classification is perfect. FrameNet includes four frames which overlap somewhat with barrier verbs, namely HINDERING, PREVENTING, PROHIBITING, and THWARTING. However, none of these four frames recognize a superordinate category frame, something like BARRIER, which classifies the verbs presented in this dissertation as a single coherent class.

Therefore, I argue that barrier verbs constitute a natural, coherent class of verbs with the unique cluster of syntactic, semantic, and lexical properties found in Table 1 (forgive the fuzzy old fashioned MS Word image):

It is the lexical preferences for complement type that intrigues me more than any other fact about these verbs. For example, prevent almost always occurs with an ING complement but actually can occur with an NP. This is not strictly a selectional restriction because violations are possible, acceptable, and grammatical (and non-metaphorical), they are just low frequency. I'll post more about this later, but its juicy and weird and cool.

The following verbs are argued to be ‘core’ members of the class because they contain basic barrier verb semantics in their default lexical entries:

ban, bar, barricade, block, deflect, detain, discourage, enjoin, exclude, exempt, guard, hamper, hinder, interrupt, obstruct, occlude, protect, screen, shield, pre-empt, prevent, prohibit, restrain, restrict, thwart

As will be seen below, the construction is productive and many more verbs can take on barrier semantics. As attested by corpus evidence, the following 64 verbs can all occur in the construction with from and some allow against (not only is it OK if you find some these are not obviously barrier verbs at first glance, but in fact, that's the point! The construction coerces non-barrier verbs into the barrier verb semantics):

avert, ban, barricade, defend, deflect, derail, detain, exclude, exempt, guard, harbor, hide, insulate, occlude, protect, relegate, screen, secure, shackle, shield, avoid, bar, block, bond, check, constrain, curb, delay, deter, disable, discourage, embarrass, encumber, enjoin, foil, forestall, freeze, frustrate, halt, hamper, hamstring, handicap, hinder, hold, impair, impede, inhibit, interrupt, invalidate, keep, occlude, obstruct, obviate, outlaw, preclude, pre-empt, prevent, prohibit, proscribe, restrain, restrict, retard, staved-off, stay, stop, stymie, suppress, thwart.

More to come...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting to see how languages are formed in all the different cultures Thanks for the read!
-Jon @ construction site safety

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