24.479, Review: Linguistic Theories; Semantics; Syntax: Melloni (2012)

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LINGUIST List: Vol-24-479. Sun Jan 27 2013. ISSN: 1069 - 4875.

Subject: 24.479, Review: Linguistic Theories; Semantics; Syntax: Melloni (2012)

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Date: Sun, 27 Jan 2013 12:05:27
From: Jaime Dube [jaime.dube at gmail.com]
Subject: Event and Result Nominals

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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-1021.html

AUTHOR: Chiara  Melloni
TITLE: Event and Result Nominals
SUBTITLE: A Morpho-semantic Approach
YEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Jaime Dube, Université de Montréal


This monograph is based on the author's Ph.D. thesis (2007, University of
Verona, Italy) but also incorporates her more recent work on the same topic
(e.g. Melloni and Bisetto 2010). It is a study of deverbal nouns that
regularly have both a process/state (=event) reading and a variety of more
''referential'' readings. Using data from Italian, Melloni (henceforth M)
describes the polysemy of event (E) and result (R) nominals within the
approach to the semantics of derivational affixes mainly developed by Lieber
(cf. Lieber 2004).

The issue tackled by M is the following: How does one describe the ambiguity
of so-called Action Nominals from a morpho-semantic perspective? This question
has had a distinguished place in the recent history of linguistic theory and
obviously continues to do so (from Chomsky 1970 and Comrie 1976 to the
present). The basic facts can be summarized by the following examples:

a. Speakers NOMINALIZE verbs constantly.
b. The speakers' constant NOMINALIZATION of verbs…
c. The frequent NOMINALIZATION *(of verbs) (by speakers)…
d. ''Nominalization'' is a NOMINALIZATION.
e. ''Nominalization'' is a NOUN.

The deverbal noun NOMINALIZATION (related to the verb NOMINALIZE) can be used
in a noun phrase, as in (1b), that is parallel to the sentence in (1a), with
both the internal and the external argument and an aspectual modifier, but it
can also be used like a non-derived, non-relational noun (cf. 1d-1e). One also
needs to consider examples like (1c) that show a structural resemblance
between the noun phrase and a passive sentence, but where the object (''of
verbs''), and not the subject (''by speakers''), is obligatory. Semantically,
NOMINALIZATION can denote either the result of the process, as in (1d), or the
process, as in (1b-c), that is denoted by NOMINALIZE in (1a); pragmatically,
NOMINALIZATION can refer to a thing, as in (1d), or an event, as in (1b-c). In
(1d), NOMINALIZATION seems to denote the result of the process denoted by
NOMINALIZE. Thus, it appears that the same deverbal noun may sometimes have
some verbal properties (presumably inherited from its base), and sometimes may
simply be a noun.

I will first summarize each of the six chapters of the book and then discuss
some questions raised by this study.

Chapter 1: Aims and Orientation
The first chapter presents the basic facts from the perspective of Generative
Grammar: the class of Action Nominals consists of morphologically complex
lexemes that are the result of merging an affixal head and a verbal base.
Nominalizations are thus endocentric constructions. Nominalizing suffixes are
deemed to be ''transpositional'', i.e., they only change the syntactic
category while preserving (most of) the properties of the base verb. The
distinction between E and R nominals hinges almost exclusively on the presence
(E) versus the absence (R) of argument structure, since R nominals form a
heterogeneous class denoting not only results, but also locations, and
collectives, among others.

Despite the wide range of meanings of E/R nominals, which has led some
prominent morphologists to claim that their interpretation is only constrained
by world-knowledge (i.e. pragmatics) and linguistic context, M maintains that
there are significant semantic regularities that do not follow from such a
pessimistic stance and that can be described within Lieber's (2004)
''descriptive framework and formal apparatus for derivational semantics'' (p.
10). In this framework, the meaning of a lexical item or of an affix consists
of a ''skeleton'', representing only semantic properties that have a
morpho-syntactic reflex, and a ''body'', representing the encyclopedic
knowledge necessary to use the item properly.

M wants to characterize the type of ambiguity of E/R nominals, the default
meaning, the range of possible meanings, and the reason for the presence or
absence of argument structure in these nominals.

Chapter 2: Generative Approaches to Nominalization
As M correctly points out, the analysis of nominalizations in generative
literature has focused on deriving the verbal properties of E nominals. In
this chapter, she reviews some of the influential approaches to the topic (on
the lexicalist side of the debate), giving special attention to solutions that
involve features of lexical meaning, as opposed to solutions that rely more
heavily on the contribution of syntactic configuration to the interpretation
of nominalizations (the latter being one of the most important insights of
Chomsky 1970, with the introduction of X-bar theory).

In Grimshaw (1990), the ambiguity of E/R nominals results from the ambiguity
of nominalizing affixes, which may bind non-thematic arguments that are either
referential (i.e. real-world entity that is referred to) or eventual (i.e.
situations as entities). This is possible because Grimshaw's framework
includes a level of representation called lexical conceptual structure (LCS),
where these E and R arguments are represented but may or may not be mapped
onto the intermediate representation that specifies the argument structure of
the lexical item. The suffixes are, in essence, polysemous, and, depending on
the selection of an E or R argument at the level of LCS, different
morpho-syntactic reflexes will follow. M's analysis will essentially follow
that of Grimshaw, while trying to remedy some of its flaws, like the ad hoc
treatment of the optionality of the arguments of E nominals, simply renamed
''adjunct-arguments'' by Grimshaw.

In her review of ''lexico-semantic'' approaches, M adopts the concept of
inherent polysemy (Pustejovsky 1995, based on Weinreich 1970), where the
meanings of a word are different without being mutually exclusive (e.g.
complementary: ''BANK crisis'', ''food BANK''; exclusive: ''a river's BANK'').
The polysemy of E/R suffixes is thus also found in non-derived words and is of
the complementary type (see also Apresjan 1974). Lexico-semantic approaches
also draw attention to the semantic contribution of the base in
word-formation, emphasizing, for example, that different types of situations
(e.g. ''states'', ''activities'', ''accomplishments'', and ''achievements'',
cf. Vendler 1967, Dowty 1979) give different kinds of interpretations in

Chapter 3: Suffixes and Co-indexation
In this chapter, M first briefly presents the data, where the main focus is on
three Italian nominalizing suffixes (i.e. -mento, -zione, -tura) that have
cognates in English and many Romance languages. Those three suffixes are the
most productive and least specialized forms and are taken to be semantically
equivalent, filling the same paradigmatic cell.

Then, Lieber's (2004) decompositional semantics is introduced. In it, the
skeleton of lexical items and affixes is represented as a hierarchical list of
features coupled with an appropriate number of argument slots for items of a
predicative nature. In affixation, affixes bind one of the base's arguments
(normally the highest one) through a mechanism of coindexation, and they
together form more complex semantic representations by compositionally
subordinating the base's skeleton. M proposes that E/R suffixes have a
''double representation'' corresponding to a single lexical entry (p. 64):

(2) Lexical Entry of Nominalizing suffixes
E skeleton: [-material, +/-dynamic ([  ]E, <base>)]
R skeleton: [+/-material, -dynamic ([  ]R, <base>)]

In her discussion of the mechanism of coindexation, M makes a number of novel
claims. Echoing Grimshaw and Higginbotham (1983), among others, she argues
that ''E suffixes'' bind a non-thematic event argument, which is something
that isn't present in Lieber's (2004) system, and is meant to explain the
presence of syntactic satellites with E nominals (bound arguments cannot be
expressed syntactically). She also argues that ''R suffixes'' may coindex any
participant (thematic or not) present in the LCS of the base verb and that
this takes care of most of the denotations possible for R nominals.

Chapter 4: Base Verbs and Semantic Constraints
The next chapter addresses the contribution of the base in the interpretation
of R nominals. M's aim is to explicitly state the limitations on R
interpretations in order to reflect the fact that they are less productive
than E nominalizations (with the latter being the default).

To do so, verbal bases are almost exhaustively classified using criteria
developed by Pustejovsky (e.g. 1995) and Levin & Rappaport-Hovav (e.g. 2005).
In order to obtain an R reading, the base verb must have some participant in
its semantic representation (LCS and/or qualia structure) which satisfies the
constraints imposed by the suffix's R slot: it must be NON-SENTIENT, and is
preferably INCREMENTAL or EFFECTED. The last two constraints are violable but,
when they are satisfied, they correspond to PATH or PRODUCT readings, which
are themselves sub-types of ENTITY-IN-STATE readings (a cover term for most R

Thus, by virtue of their semantic representation, creation verbs correspond to
product nominals because they include an effected participant that can fill
the R slot of the suffix. Path readings are obtained by binding an incremental
argument of the base verb. In the case of state verbs, which lack effected or
incremental arguments, the binding of the internal argument results in an
entity-in-state reading.

Crucial to this analysis is the idea that the R slot of the suffix may be
filled by ANY participant present at some level of semantic representation.
Notice, however, that it does not bind an abstract argument, as is the case
for the E suffix (this important formal distinction is not discussed by M).

Chapter 5: Verb Skeletons and Co-indexation
The last chapter details how the expanded system of semantic representation
works. First, M shows how coindexation is implemented between the skeleton of
the base, which now contains additional non-thematic arguments and a D-PATH
argument (corresponding to the incremental LCS participant), and the skeleton
of the suffix in a way that in principle should reflect the possibility of
overt arguments for E nominals. In particular, M finds support for the
non-thematic event argument through the fact that Lieber's Coindexation
Principle would wrongly coindex the external (i.e. subject) argument of the
base if it were indeed the highest one. M's approach is more consistent with
the fact that the subject can be optionally expressed as a by-phrase with E

Second, M shows how the mechanism of inheritance fixes the value of
underspecified features in the skeleton of affixes (i.e. [+/-dynamic] for E
suffixes; [+/-material] for R suffixes). Stative bases confer a minus value
and active bases a plus value for the feature [dynamic], and the base argument
that is coindexed with the R slot transfers its value for the feature

Finally, M demonstrates how the semantic representation of the base and the
suffix are merged to form a single expression that describes the grammatically
relevant meaning of E and R nominals.

Chapter 6: Conclusion
This short epilogue summarizes the previous chapters and underlines the
defining characteristics of M's approach: a focus on the MEANING of E/R
nominals, not just the morpho-syntax; a systematic treatment of R nominals'
varied interpretations; the novel integration in Lieber's (2004) framework of
Pustejovsky's (1995) qualia structures as a formalization of the body of
lexical bases; and finally, the empirical coverage of her analysis.

The double representation of nominalizing suffixes accounts for E versus R
interpretations, with the former being relatively unconstrained, as is
expected of the default option. Within R interpretations, the uncovered
semantic constraints are said to account for “product”, “means”, “path”, and
“psych-stimulus'' readings. There remains a small number of possible non-E
meanings that cannot be directly described in M's scheme:
“agentive-collective” and “locative” are said to result from ''paradigmatic
sense-extension'', a functional notion already invoked by Lieber (2004) in
connection with a different affix; “manner”, “temporal”, and “factive” are
said to be triggered by predicative context (some kind of coercion effect.)


Unfortunately, this short summary cannot do justice to the level of detail,
breadth, and theoretical refinement of M’s study of the semantics of Italian
nominalizations and nominalizing affixes in Generative Grammar.

The theoretical problems tackled in this book are at the center of most
formalist approaches to the description of language, in particular: 1) the
nature of syntactic categories and the types of mappings between syntactic
categories and one (or many) levels of semantic representation; and 2) the
(apparently) different ways in which an utterance can refer to something
worldly (for events and concrete/abstract entities particularly) and the
related issue of the status of various kinds of semantic “features” (perhaps
beginning with Katz & Fodor 1963, Weinreich 1970).

These questions also reflect a renewed interest in the semantics of
word-formation (frequently defined as “category-changing morphology”) on the
part of morphologists, with a sense that there is new ground to cover in this
area. In his closing words at the last International Morphology Meeting on
“Morphology and Meaning”, Hans-Christian Luschützky was talking about the
tools we use to describe and understand meaning in morphology and said
something to the effect that “we are still eating our semantic soup with a
fork, but a nice fork nevertheless”.

In this regard, M’s Chapter 2 (Generative Approaches to Nominalization)
provides a detailed and insightful overview of the current state of the field,
highlighting the fact that basic assumptions and biases (e.g. focus on
syntactic configurations or on lexical semantic content) give rise to
different, perhaps complementary, analyses, and showing that influential
treatments of the subject, such as Grimshaw (1990) and Borer (2003), fall
short of an explanation of the polysemy of E/R suffixes because they fail “to
account for the evident semantic relation between the interpretation of a
nominalization as a situation and as a product or effect of the same
situation” (p. 43).

M’s claim that E/R exhibit logical/inherent polysemy (different but not
mutually exclusive meanings) is a welcome attempt to improve on such work.
However, it appears that in her analysis, the opposite is true; each suffix
binds EITHER a referential argument OR an eventual argument. In other words,
the E and R readings are mutually exclusive. As with Grimshaw (1990) and Borer
(2003), M does not explain the “natural connection” between E and R readings,
but simply puts several definitions under a unique label. As Rainer (2010: 15)
rightly remarks: “the use of disjunctions in the definiens makes it possible
to ‘unify’ anything”. Instances of regular polysemy do not need an
independent, language or item-specific characterization (Apresjan 1974: 17)
because they are explained by independent and more general (universal)
principles. For example, the possible metonymic shift between ‘container’ and
‘content’, as in “drink a GLASS of wine”, is probably explained by a principle
that is not specific to the English language.

In the study of nominalizations, one of the fundamental questions seems to be:
“What does it mean for a noun to denote an event?” Verbal Nouns, as Comrie
(1976) calls them, do just that, and I think that formalists would benefit
from the insights of as many perspectives as possible. Among many other
titles, there are interesting leads in Langacker (1987), for example, who
suggests that temporality, or its absence, in the construal of situations
plays an important role in understanding the concept of “nominality”. Another
option that should be entertained is Bhat’s (1979) proposal that the
categorial ambiguity of nominalizations stems from a more primitive
distinction, familiar to philosophers of language, between NAMES and DEFINITE

This book will be of interest to graduate students and researchers working on
areas such as morphological theory, lexical semantics, argument structure, and
Italian/Romance derivational morphology.


Apresjan, Juri D. 1974. Regular Polysemy. Linguistics 142.5-32.

Bhat, D. N. Shankara. 1979. The referents of noun phrases. Pune: Deccan

Borer, Hagit. 2003. Exo-skeletal vs. Endo-skeletal Explanations. In: The
Nature of Explanations in Linguistic Theory, ed. by J. Moore and M. Polinsky,
31-67. Chicago: CSLI and University of Chicago Press.

Chomsky, Noam. 1970. Remarks on Nominalizations. In: Readings in English
Transformational Grammar, ed. by R.A. Jacobs & P.S. Rosenbaum, 184-221.
Waltham, Mass.: Ginn.

Comrie, Bernard. 1976. The Syntax of Action Nominals: A Cross-Language Study.
Lingua 40.177-201.

Dowty, David R. 1979. Word Meaning and Montague Grammar. Dordrecht: Reidel.

Grimshaw, Jane. 1990. Argument structure. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Higginbotham, James. 1983. The Logic of Perceptual reports: An Extensional
Alternative to Situation Semantics. Journal of Philosophy 80: 100-127.

Katz, Jerrold J. & Jerry A. Fodor. 1963. The Structure of Semantic Theory.
Language 39.170-210.

Langacker, Paul. 1987. Nouns and Verbs. Language 63.53-94.

Levin, Beth & Malka Rappaport-Hovav. 2005. Argument Realization. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.

Lieber, Rochelle. 2004. Morphology and Lexical Semantics. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.

Melloni, Chiara & Antonietta Bisetto. 2010. On the Interpretation of Nominals:
Towards a Result-oriented Verb Classification. In: Language and Cognition:
Traditional and New Approaches, ed. by O. Souleimanova, 165-178. Frankfurt:
Peter Lang.

Pustejovsky, James. 1995. The Generative Lexicon. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Rainer, Franz. 2010. Sobre Polisemia en la Formación de Palabras. Hesperia.
Annuario de Filología Hispánica 13.7-52.

Vendler, Zeno. 1967. Linguistics in Philosophy. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell
University Press.

Weinreich, Uriel. 1970. Explorations in Semantic Theory. In: Current Trends in
Linguistics v. 3, Theoretical Foundations, ed. by T.A. Sebeok, 395-477. The
Hague: Mouton.


Jaïmé Dubé (Université de Montréal) is a Ph.D. candidate working on semantic
aspects of the derivational morphology of French. He has also published papers
on the interface between morphology and phonology,  and on the evolutionary
origins of morphology.

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