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The Domain of Content

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An investigation of the properties of derived nominals (Complex Event Nominals in the sense of Grimshaw, 1990) reveals a number of rather surprising facts. First, derived nominals with non-compositional Content (or Sense) cannot be Argument Structure nominals (Complex Event Nominals in the sense of Grimshaw, 1990), contrasting, as such, with identical morpho-phonological forms which do happen to have compositional Content (e.g. transformation in its technical linguistic sense vs. transformation as transparently composed from transform). Second, Argument Structure nominals, but not necessarily others, must embed a constituent that is otherwise a possible independent verb, thereby making e.g. aviation, fiction and petulance perfectly licit derived nominals, but not with an embedded event structure.

The contrasts, as it turns out, cannot be accounted for by a lexicalist theory of word formation, nor can they be explained by appealing to any model in which roots are allowed to select arguments. The contrasts, however, can be derived within a wholly syntactic approach to argument structure and to the formation of complex words, in which the domain of non-compositional Content (atomic Content) is defined on the basis of structurally delimited, phonologically realized, syntactic constituents, and is crucially accessible by phase. The argumentation and the conclusions will thus point towards a system of complex word construction which must be syntactic. It will further points towards the need to revise at least some aspects of our understanding concerning the interaction between sound, and specifically phonological realization, and meaning, the latter specifically as in Content.

This talk is part of the Cambridge University Linguistic Society (LingSoc) series.

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