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Richard Larson

Ph.D. Dissertation, 1983


Similarities in behavior between nominal and verbal modifiers are not uncommon in world languages. In English, for example, there are important parallels between nominal and verbal modifiers; certain classes of syntactic objects such as prepositional phrases and wh- clauses function in both of these capacities. Moreover, in a number of languages there is a construction consisting of a main clause and a sister-adjoined subordinate clause in which the latter can function both as a restrictive relative modifier for some main clause nominal, and as an adverbial modifier of the main clause. This study examines the question of what properties adverbials and relative clauses must share such that natural language semantics is able to generalize across them. After showing the difficulties which this matter raises for some theories of nominal and verbal modification, I present an approach to the question within the recently-developed framework of Situation Semantics. The central notion of this framework is 'situation', conceived of as a spatio-temporally situated partial model of the world. Within Situation Semantics sentences describe (sets of) situations and nominal elements are interpreted with respect (sets of) situations. In this study the common aspect in nominal and verbal modification is captured in terms of 'situation restriction'. Relative clauses are analyzed as restricting the sets of facts that hold in the situation in which their associated NPs are evaluated, and space-time adverbs are analyzed as restricting the locations of the situations which their associated verbal elements describe. I show that such an approach sheds light on a number of important syntactic and semantic properties of these constructions, such as why certain classes of nominals reject restrictive relative clauses and why space-time adverbs exhibit the syntactic freedom of occurrence which we observe. Moreover I demonstrate that with this Situation Semantics analysis it is possible to give a simple and fully compositional account of adjoined clauses in an Australian aboriginal language, Warlpiri, which generalizes across many of the readings observed for this structure.

Department of Linguistics University of Wisconsin-Madison

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