The Generative Lexicon, Chapters 4-5

The Generative Lexicon, Chapters 4-5 - 4 Limitations of...

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4 Limitations of Sense Enumerative Lexicons In this chapter I turn to some intrinsic problems with the enumeration method for lexical description described in the previous chapter. It will be shown that the representations allowed by sense enumeration lexi- cons are inadequate to account for the description of natural language semantics. It is important to note that a theory of lexical meaning will affect the general structure of our semantic theory in several ways. If we view the goal of a semantic theory as being able to recursively assign meanings to expressions, accounting for phenomena such as synonymy, antonymy, polysemy, metonymy, etc., then our view of compositional- ity will depend ultimately on what the basic lexical categories of the language denote. The standard assumption in current semantic theory requires that words behave as either active functors or passive argu- ments. As argued in Pustejovsky (1991a), however, if we change the way in which categories can denote, then the form of compositionality will itself change. Hence, our view of lexical semantics can actually force us to reevaluate the very nature of semantic composition in language. I will show that there are three basic arguments showing the inade- quacies of SELs for the semantic description of language. (1) THE CREATIVE USE OF WORDS: Words assume new senses in novel contexts. (2) THE PERMEABILITY OF WORD SENSES: Word senses are not atomic definitions but overlap and make reference to other senses of the word. (3) THE EXPRESSION OF MULTIPLE SYNTACTIC FORMS: A single word sense can have multiple syntactic realization. Each of these considerations points to the inability of sense enumerative models to adequately express the nature of lexical knowledge and poly- semy. Taken together, it would seem that the frameworks incorporating SELs are poor models of natural language semantics. I will argue that, although the conventional approach to lexicon de- sign (i.e., sense enumeration) is sufficient for contrastive ambiguity, it is unable to address the real nature of polysemy. To adequately treat complementary polysemy, we must touch on every assumption we have regarding word meaning and compositionality. How this is accomplished
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40 Chapter 4 without proliferating word senses is not a simple task and requires re- thinking the role played by typically non-functor elements in the phrase; that is, in order to maintain compositionality we must enrich the seman- tics of the expressions in composition. In the last section of this chapter, I outline a model of semantics built on this principle, called a generative lexicon. 4.1 The Goals of Lexical Semantic Theory As mentioned above, I assume that the primary goal of a theory of lexical semantics, and with it a compositional semantics, is to both describe adequately the data and to be transparent regarding two points: the system must be learnable is an obvious way and the various phenomena of polymorphisms must be adequately addressed. I do not distinguish between the goals of theoretical linguistics
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  • Fall '07
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