ISSN: 1139-8736
Depósito Legal: B-48039-2000

7.4. An Integrationist Account

As seen in the previous section, the main drawback of the constructional approach is that it becomes extremely difficult to predict whether a particular verb participates in a given construction. In the lexicalist approach this does not pose a problem because there is a specific lexical entry for the verb with an argument structure that will give as output in the syntax the structure corresponding to the given construction. The main drawbacks of the lexical approach are the multiplication of lexical entries and the unpredictability in many cases of the meanings that show up in some syntactic configurations, precisely in those that the constructionalists identify as in need of a construction.

The solution for most of these problems comes from an integration of the two proposals. Both the lexicalist or projectionist and the constructional approaches are complementary and need to be integrated in order to provide an explanation for the complexity of verbal lexical items and the myriad of syntactic configurations in which they appear. Under this integrationist approach, both the different lexical entries for the verbs and the constructions play a fundamental role in shaping the structure and configuration of the clauses of languages. Sentential meaning is the result, then, of the integration of the meaning of the verbs with the meaning of the constructions in which they appear, but at the same time the meaning of the verb is determined and can be changed to a great extent by the particular syntactic configurations in which it participates most frequently, giving rise to new lexical entries for that verb. As an illustration of this, consider the Latin verb peto. According to Woodcock (1959:2) it originally meant "I fly" and was used to signify rapid motion. It was intransitive, but it could be built with an accusative of direction to indicate the goal of the motion: peto urbem "I fly to the city". But, since one rarely moves rapidly without a goal in mind, the association was so frequent that the meaning of the verb changed to "seek". Thus, peto urbem no longer meant "I fly to the city", but "I seek the city". In fact Woodcock presents the hypothesis that transitive verbs might have originated from such constructions:

The verb had changed its meaning by absorbing the meaning of the case-ending, which thus became superfluous, but remained as the traditional shape of a word, when it denoted the object. Once this construction had arisen, linguistic usage would extent it indefinitely, and the number of transitive verbs would go on growing. (Woodcock 1959:2)
It is irrelevant whether Woodstock was right or wrong with regards to the origin of transitive verbs, what is crucial is that verbs change their meanings through the frequent association with particular constructions.

The verb float will be used to illustrate this integrationist approach. The basic sense of float is the intransitive which shows up in sentences such as the following:

(7.10) a. The bottle floats.

b. The bottle is floating.
c. The bottle floated for two hours.
But since float shows up very frequently in the Intransitive Motion Construction with a directional, it has developed a sense where it means to move in a particular manner to or toward a particular place. This new sense can be seen in most dictionaries:
(7.11) Motion senses of float in dictionaries:

i. OED: to move quietly and gently on the surface of a liquid, participating in its motion.
ii. Collins Cobuild: If you float somewhere, you walk very lightly and gracefully, a literary use.
iii. Merriam Webster: to drift on or through or as if on or through a fluid.
iv. WordNet: synset: float, drift, be adrift, blow (be in motion due to some air current)
v. Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary: move with moving liquid or air.
vi. Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English: to (cause to) move easily and lightly as on moving liquid or air.
vii.Cambridge International Dictionary of English: to (cause) to move easily through, or along the surface of, a liquid, or to (cause to) move easily through air.
Examples of this sense are Talmy’s original sentences illustrating the typology:
(7.12) a. The bottle floated into the cave.

b. The bottle floated out of the cave.
The situation in which this happens is plausible and frequent enough for the verb to float to have acquired the new sense. Thus, the meaning of float has been colored with the meaning of the construction in which it appears frequently. Real-world plausibility and frequency of use are fundamental factors in this process.

Sometimes it is the case that the real-world situation is implausible or that it is not frequent. In that case the verb does not manage to develop a new sense and stays somewhere within the continuum from no- participation or sporadic participation in a construction to development of a new sense caused by the construction. This can be illustrated again with the verb float and its interaction with the Caused Motion Construction. Sentences like the following are not readily accepted:

(7.13) ? I floated the bottle into the cave
The reason has to do with the meaning of float, which seems to require a non-agentive interpretation since, as the definition of the OED above points out, the moving object has to participate in the motion of the liquid on whose surface it is floating, and that movement cannot be usually controlled. With a subject referring to the motion of the supporting liquid surface, the sentence becomes more acceptable:
(7.14) The tide floated the bottle into the cave.
Here, the tide is not an agent but an effector or force. Another possibility is that the directed motion indicated by float is so determined by the context that this construction becomes felicitous with float, as in the following example taken from the WordNet database:
(7.15) He floated the logs down the river
Notice that in this sentence, the subject he is agent only of the action of setting afloat the logs. The downward motion is plausible because that is the direction rivers flow. The use of float with this construction is very limited and it is natural to suppose that it has not still developed a full-fledged caused motion sense (although it may be noticed that in some of the dictionary definitions, the causative motion float is already acknowledged, cf. definitions vi. and vii above). It is conceivable that float could evolve to be more widely used in this construction, but in that case inexorably the meaning of the verb would have to change and acquire a new agentive or causative motion sense, or it would be reflecting a change of the world in which humans would have more control on the motion of large bodies of fluids.

The interactions between the meanings of the verbs and the meanings of the constructions in which they participate are very complex and dynamic. It does not make sense to ask which comes first, the verbal meaning or the constructional meaning. The two inevitably influence each other. The crucial point is that both are needed.

Evidence from dictionaries and from research in psycholinguistics supports the integrationist approach. All lexicographers know that verbs are the most difficult words to define. Landau (1984: 141) cites as reasons the verbs’ numerous senses and the complex relationship they establish with their objects. Lexicographers usually establish new senses for verbs when they are frequently associated to particular constructions. Just a few examples involving verbs of sound emission will serve to illustrate this point. In dictionaries, some of these verbs are presented with particular motion senses, others are not. The verb buzz, for instance, appears in several dictionaries with the sense of ‘fly low’. The basic meaning of buzz as a verb is to "make a continuous sound, like that of a bee" (Collins Cobuild). Algeo’s (1991) Fifty Years among the New Words and the OED trace the first citation of buzz as flying low to the following sentence:

(7.16) They said he could buzz the camouflage off the top of a hangar without touching it. (Time Dec. 1942)
The journal American Speech collected it in its "Among the New Words" section as an established neologism in April 1945, with the definition: "to fly close to an object on the ground, to fly close to the ground, especially in a spirit of frolic or showing-off" (Algeo 1991: 102). In a contemporary dictionary like Collins Cobuild, this sense is reflected as follows: "If an aircraft buzzes a place, it flies low over it, usually in a threatening way. American fighter planes buzzed the city." Buzz could only have acquired this new motion sense through its frequent association to a construction in which planes were the subjects and cities or low objects the direct objects.

Other examples involving verbs of sound emission developing motion senses through their interaction with path complements are illustrated by the following examples from the OED:

(7.17) Slowly . . . our train chugged northward.

(7.18) He clomped up the stairs to his apartment as noisily as possible.

(7.19) The cab rumbled back to town.

(7.20) Through the rain, I splashed up the main street.

(7.21) We thundered down the steep hill into the centre of the town . . .

(7.22) The lightning-express-train whishes by a station.

(7.23) Chrétien will be the first western astronaut to be whooshed into space by a Soviet rocket.

In all of these sentences the path imposes a motion interpretation of the verb. When this association is frequent enough, the verb develops a motion sense. This is probably the reason why the OED recognizes this motion sense for the verbs above.

From the perspective of psycholinguistics, the kind of evidence that can be presented for the integrationist view has to do with the flexibility of verb meanings compared with the meaning of nouns, as Fellbaum (1993: 40) has pointed out:

Verbs can change their meanings depending on the kinds of noun arguments with which they co-occur, whereas the meaning of nouns tends to be more stable in the presence of different verbs. Gentner and France (1988) have demonstrated what they call high mutability of verbs. They presented subjects with sentences containing verbs in conjunction with nouns that violated the verbs’ selectional restrictions. When asked to paraphrase the sentences, subjects assigned novel interpretations to the verbs, but did not modify the literal meaning of the nouns. Gentner and France concluded that verb meanings are more easily altered because they are less cohesive than those of nouns—a flexibility that makes a semantic analysis of verbs an even more challenging task.
Again, the interaction between the meaning of the verb and the meaning of the construction in which it is inserted can be seen at work. A lexical semantic theory of verbal meaning should recognize the importance of both the lexical meaning of the verbs and their interaction with the constructions in which they participate. This is why simply a projectionist or constructional approach to verbal meaning does not suffice. Both need to be integrated.

The main drawback of the integrationist view is the multiplication of entities, because both the different lexical entries of the verbs and the constructions are needed. The different lexical entries are required to keep a record of which verbs participate in which constructions. The constructions, as a way to ensure the possibility of new uses by the verbs and to account for aspects of meaning that cannot be derived from the semantics of the verbs alone.

This integrationist approach can be accused, then, of going against the Principle of Occam’s Razor (entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem "entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity"), which introduction to syntax textbooks such as Aarts (1997: 163) present as a fundamental principle in syntactic research. This principle also plays a role in current trends in linguistic research towards economy and minimalism. The strongest defence against such criticism is that the facts of language are complex enough to require such multiplication of entities. Langacker articulates this persuasively:

Linguists are driven by esthetic considerations and by the dictates of scientific method to look for simple, elegant solutions to complex problems. This is proper and necessary, but only to the extent that such analyses are consistent with the reality of language. Linguistic phenomena are extraordinarily complex and interdependent. There are limits to the neatness and simplicity of linguistic descriptions that seek to account for these phenomena with any semblance of completeness and accuracy. (Langacker 1987: 30)
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ISSN: 1139-8736
Depósito Legal: B-48039-2000