Semantics and the Lexicon

Volume 49 of the series Studies in Linguistics and Philosophy pp 73-94

Type Coercion and Lexical Selection

  • James PustejovskyAffiliated withComputer Science Department, Brandeis University

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In this paper I will discuss how type-shifting is licensed in a language and what effect it has on the mapping from the lexicon to syntax. In particular, I will look at the phenomenon of type coercion, and how this behavior can be accounted for by the grammar in a systematic way. I suggest that the ambiguity exhibited by adjectives, aspectual verbs, experiencer verbs, and many causatives is the result of type coercion operations. That is, every lexical item exhibits some degree of ambiguity, what I call logical polysemy. This behavior is captured by enriching the lexical semantic representation for lexical items while also allowing a word’s semantic type to shift or be coerced in particular contexts. By allowing both verbs and nouns to shift in type, we can “spread the semantic load” in the lexicon more evenly, while still capturing the ways in which words can extend their meanings, i.e. the creative use of words.