Understanding deverbal nominals: World knowledge or lexical semantics?

Abstract

The paper investigates how speakers understand constructions with deverbal nominals, i.e. nominals such as destruction that are morphologically related to verbs. Specifically, given the expression the enemy's destruction, how do the speakers decide whether the possessive argument is the entity that initiates the action (agent) or the entity that is causally affected by the event (patient)? The results of an experimental study show that this choice is dependent on the lexical semantics of the nominal. The theoretical implication is that that deverbal nominals are similar to verbs in that they have argument structure. By studying comprehension of deverbal nominals, the current study extends the scope of previous experimental work on lexical semantics that has been primarily concerned with verbs.


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