question on Preferred Arg. Str.

Martin Haspelmath haspelmath at
Thu Oct 14 16:44:23 UTC 2004

Dear Mira and Funknetters,

>(a) Ditransitives. It's not necessarily the case that if A is nonlexical
>there won't be 2 other core lexical arguments.
Yes, but this is not part of the original claims, I believe. Moreover,
since the Recipient has an equally strong tendency to be nonlexical,
again it is unclear whether an additional constraint is needed.

>(b) If there's an additional quantity constraint (additional to "avoid
>lexical As"), then when you get lexical A and lexical O you have two
>violations. When you only get lexical A (with a nonlexical O) you only have
>one violation. One can check whether the cases with two violations are
>rarer, for example. In Sakapultek (Du Bois 2003 in Du Bois et al eds) there
>are indeed no 2 new arguments, but there are some new As (6%).
Yes, but is there a *statistically significant* number of new As? The
figures are as follows in Du Bois's Sakapultek data:

                         new A            given A         total
new O               0                     47                  47
given O             6                     134               140
total                    6                     181               187

This distribution is not significant. Although there are fewer newA-newO
combinations than newA-givenO combinations, this is expected, because
given O is more common than new O overall. The same was found by Ă–sten
Dahl in his much larger spoken Swedish corpus.

>2. The identification between "new" and "lexical". I beg to differ. The two
>are NOT interchangeable. Some Given entities may be lexical (and marginally,
>the opposite is also true).
So the question is: Do the lexical given NPs show an effect of the
constraints that specifically refer to lexical (as opposed to new)
status? Has anyone examined this?

>3. Getting rid of "Avoid new As": It's true that agents are human and
>topical in many cases, but not in the percentages that PAS findings show. Of
>course the correlations you point to are relevant. This must have motivated
>the choice of As for Given entities and O for potentially new entities in
>the first place. But then, there's Ss too! Their profile is similar to that
>of As in terms of humanness and topicality. If so, why do they split off
>from As (in allowing new entities)?
It seems that in many languages/many data sets Ss are intermediate
between As and Os. I don't see that theire behavior provides good
evidence for the Given A Constraint ("Avoid new As").


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