Tuesday, September 3, 2013

I walk not alone through the valley of barriers

It's nice to not be alone. For years I thought I was the only one interested in barrier verbs. Happily, I have discovered several scholars who have published on this verb class recently. Here's a brief annotated, chronological, bibliography:
Landau, Idan. 2002. (Un)interpretable Neg in Comp. Linguistic Inquiry. Volume 33, Number 3, Summer. pp. 465-492. (This is a Minamalist Syntax treatment of Hebrew negation with just a short treatment of English prevent at the end). Infinitival complements to negative verbs (refrainprevent) display a number of surprising syntax-semantics correlations. Those are traced to the operation of negative features in the Comp position. The analysis also provides insight into the recalcitrant prevent DP from V-ing construction in English.

Mair, Christian. 2002. Three changing patterns of verb complementation in Late Modern English: A real-time study based on matching text corpora. English Language and Linguistics, 6(1), 105-131. The article looks at three instances of grammatical variation in present-day standard English: the use of bare and to-infinitives with the verb help, the presence or absence of the preposition/complementizer from before -ing-complements depending on prevent, and the choice between -ing- and infinitival complements after the verbs begin and start. In all three instances, current British and American usage will be shown to differ, and these differences need to be interpreted against diachronic changes affecting Late Modern English grammar as a whole.

Baltin, Mark R. 2009. The Properties of Negative Non-finite Complements. NYU 
 Spring. (Minamalist Syntax treatment of English from as it occurs with barrier verbs - this is a response to Landau). This paper is about the syntax and semantics of non-finite clausal complementation. By focusing on the properties of a small and comparatively neglected class of non-finite complements in English, this paper will shed light on the larger class of non-finite complements that have been the subject of much discussion, arguing that selection for complement type is semantic in nature rather than syntactic. 

Tomotsugu, Katsuko. 2013. Asymmetric causation types in the competing complements of negative causative verbs: NP (from) V-ing. The 12th International Cognitive Linguistics Conference (ICLC). University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. 23-28 June. ("This study focuses on the omission of the preposition from from the complements of negative causative verbs, which represent the nonrealization of a situation expressed by V-ing.")
I would be remiss if I failed to remind y'all that several verb class scholars have recognized classes similar to barrier verbs, as I pointed out in previous posts, particularly here. The list of scholars who have touched on barrier verbs throughout history is actually longer, and goes back longer than this brief list suggest. These are simply four  recent examples that I have stumbled upon. Apologies to anyone who deserves to be listed here but is not, and if you know of such a person, please provide me with a citation and I'll gladly update the record.

On a side note, I asked both Baltin and Tomotsugu if they have also looked at the occurrence of against as an alternative to from with some of these verbs. Professor Tomotsugu and I have started a productive email exchange regarding the overlaps in our work. I have yet to hear from Professor Baltin.

The occurrence of against is particularly useful to establish the force dynamic properties underlying the semantics of barrier verbs because against is a preposition that means physical contact (e.g., ‘to lean against’). I didn't get a chance to discover what properties condition the occurrence of against instead of from, I suspect there is something interesting there. I think it has to do with the complement acting as a goal-directed agent, instead of the object of the barrier verb. Maybe it's that from makes the NP2 undergoer salient and against makes the NP3 antagonist salient? Not sure yet. But, note that the verb protect is used with both from and against in the following CDC passage in nearly identical contexts:

"The single best way to protect your children from the flu is to get them vaccinated each year. The seasonal flu vaccine protects against three influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the season: an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus and an influenza B virus."

The role of frequency has yet to be determined, but there is clearly a difference in the frequency of from and against in both American and British English, as Google Ngrams suggests (an imperfect corpus, I know, but a good hint):

Interesting linguistics, to be sure. More to come...

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