Institute of Linguistics, Russian Academy of Sciences
Deep-Semantic Representation of Natural Events
The verbal character of eventuality has been treated from a variety of angles, including such general issues as the nature of the denoted action (Vendler 1969, Jackendoff 1990) and, for instance, language-specific problems related to aspect, tense, mode etc. (Dowty 1979, Smith 1991) In the aftermath of the cognitive turn there has been increasing attention towards conceptual representations of events and actions, with a number of new categories emerging (Talmy 2000). Within the framework of this approach, it appears necessary to look into the most basic semantic structures that underlie the linguistic manifestation of events, and especially into their behaviour in a given discourse environment.
This paper is based on the assumption that a deep-semantic representation can be verified contextually, i.e., that it reveals itself through syntactic structures the correctness of which the speaker is able to assess. This principle has formed the basis of the analysis proposed in the paper, with syntactic structures describing natural events as the research target. E.g., the event VOLCANO ERUPTION occurs, on the one hand, in syntactic structures where it holds the typical position of a Cause: Authorities have warned gawkers hiking up the slopes to see a destructive wonder of nature that they risk being caught in a similar eruption to that which killed a TV reporter (, Tuesday 8 June 2010). Yet, if considered closer, separate components of the above event are able to assume the same semantic role as well: hundreds of homes destroyed by the eruption / by the volcano / by the lava; cf. hundreds of homes destroyed because of the eruption / because of the volcano / because of the lava, where the semantic role of Cause common to the nouns becomes explicit, though with slight variations from Cause Event (VOLCANO ERUPTION) to Cause Object (volcano and lava).
Such possible transition of the semantic role from a noun phrase denoting an impersonal natural event to noun phrases denoting parts of the same event does not seem to be applicable to more "personalised" events involving similar components (e.g., an active Agent, an Object or Experiencer, and, in some cases, an Instrument, all of which have their fixed semantic role - cf. the classical example: The boy sliced a salami). Moreover, the components of VOLCANO ERUPTION can also function as Metaphorical Agents (the volcano had been raging: hundreds of houses were destroyed / its lava spared nothing) or Sources (of destruction). This multiplicity of semantic roles suggests that a natural event's components are conceptually integrated into the whole event, increasing the semantic complexity of the latter. Since the described phenomenon appears to be common to all semantic structures denoting natural events, the paper proposes, in conclusion, to develop a general semantic frame for natural events consisting of a Source (whether material or immaterial, known or unknown) and Acting Substance which can vary depending on the event (cf. material lava and immaterial wind).
Keywords: deep-semantic representation, natural event, semantic frame, semantic role
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