Sunday, August 18, 2013

barrier verb subclasses

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

Recall that if an entity wants to achieve a certain outcome, yet is impeded by some force, this situation can be encoded by a barrier verb in English, such as prevent, ban, protect.

In order not to confuse Talmy’s description with mine, I will use different terms from this point forward. In defining the semantics of barrier verb, I will use the term “blocker” to refer to the participant who initiates or causes the blocking event to occur, the term “blockee” to refer to the participant which is affected by the blocking, the term “barrier” to refer to the participant which actually creates the blockade, and finally the term “outcome” to refer to the result of the event which was blocked (somewhat related to goals). These terms may have some overlap with well known semantic terms (e.g., “actor”, “agent”, “undergoer”, “patient” ,“instrument”, “resultative”); however, they are used here as labels of convenience, so they should not be confused with other terms used outside of this dissertation.

I will show that two semantically distinct subclasses of barrier verbs can be described:

Set 1) a prevent subclass where the syntactic object of the barrier verb is the blockee of the blocked event but presupposes an intention to achieve the outcome of the blocked event on the part of the blockee.

Example 1: Chris banned Wallis from going to the movies.
  • Blocker = Chris
  • Blockee = Wallis
  • Barrier = speech act ‘ban’
  • Outcome = seeing the movie

Set 2) a protect subclass where the syntactic object of the barrier verb is the blockee of the blocked event and presupposes a desire to circumvent the outcome.

Example 2: The doctor protects children from the flu with vaccines.
  • Blocker = Doctors
  • Blockee = the children
  • Barrier = vaccines
  • Outcome = getting the flu
The critical difference between the two classes is that prevent-type barrier verbs encode a negative relationship between the blocker and the blockee, while protect-type verbs encode a positive relationship between the blocker and the blockee. For example, in Example 1 above, it is presupposed that Wallis wants to achieve the outcome of seeing the movie and the blocker Chris stops Wallis from achieving this goal against Wallis's wish. In Example 2 above, it is presupposed that children want to avoid the outcome getting the flu and the blocker The doctor helps the children avoid this outcome.

The Verbs

Set 1 - prevent class
ban, bar, barricade, block, detain, discourage, enjoin, exclude, hamper, hinder, interrupt, obstruct, occlude, pre-empt, prevent, prohibit, restrain, restrict, thwart

Set 2 - protect class
deflect, exempt, guard, insulate, protect, screen, shield

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