University of Cambridge > > DTAL Tuesday Colloquia > Negotiating wages for verbs: The valency approach and argument structure constructions

Negotiating wages for verbs: The valency approach and argument structure constructions

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Anna Kibort.


The central question to be addressed in this talk is to what extent the syntactic valency patterns of verbs (such as ‘manage to do’ or ‘succeed in doing’) should be analysed as item-specific properties of the respective lexical units and to what extent they can be explained in terms of generalisations. This involves an outline of the approach taken by valency theory, in particular the approach taken in the Valency Dictionary of English (2004) and in Introduction to Syntactic Analysis. A Valency Approach (2008). Parallels and differences between this approach and classic German valency theory will be outlined briefly, concentrating on the formal specification of the complements of verbs and the question of optionality of valency slots. One important methodological point here is that in the valency approach the levels of formal valency patterns (as described in the Erlangen English Valency Patternbank: and the semantic level of participant patterns are being kept apart methodologically.

The valency approach will be compared with Adele Goldberg’s (1995 and 2006) theory of argument structure constructions (such as the ditransitive construction or the caused motion construction). Goldberg claims that argument structure constructions exist independently of the verbs that occur in them, which enables her to explain creative verb uses such as ‘She sneezed the foam off the cappuccino’, which would not be covered by a traditional valency analysis.

In the light of empirical evidence the character of generalisations in this area will be investigated. Using evidence from the VDE and Susen Faulhaber’s study of English valency patterns (2011) it will be shown that a specification of the formal valency properties of verbs is absolutely necessary and that Goldberg’s account of argument structure constructions is formally underspecified.

Finally, possibilities of combining the empirical valency approach and the theory of argument structure constructions will be explored.


  • Faulhaber, Susen (2011): Verb Valency Patterns. A Challenge for Semantics-Based Accounts. Berlin/New York: de Gruyter Mouton.
  • Goldberg, Adele E. (1995): A Construction Grammar Approach to Argument Structure. Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press.
  • Goldberg, Adele E. (2006): Constructions at Work. The Nature of Generalization in Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Herbst, Thomas, David Heath, Ian Roe and Dieter Götz (2004): A Valency Dictionary of English. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter. [VDE]
  • Herbst, Thomas and Susen Schüller (2008): Introduction to Syntactic Analysis. A Valency Approach. Tübingen: Narr.

This talk is part of the DTAL Tuesday Colloquia series.

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