Deniz Özyıldız: Event Semantics

Natural language sentences describe eventualities, a cover term for states and
events. We can model this by assuming that certain predicates come with an
eventuality argument, which can be modified, located in actual or non-actual
space and time, and related to individuals.

(1) a. Jones buttered the toast slowly.
b. ∃e[butter(e) & slow(e) & agent(e) = jones & theme(e) = theToast & past(e)
& in(e,w0)]

The first goal of this course is to show how eventualities can be incorporated
into a compositional semantics. Things will seem easy at first, as we start out
with adverbial modification and thematic roles, but they will quickly become
difficult, as we make our way towards a discussion of modality, quantification,
and negation.

Its second goal is to talk about lexical and grammatical aspect. Based on world
knowledge and the grammatical behavior of event descriptions, we group these
into different categories. A familiar distinction is the one between atelic and
telic descriptions in (2). Predicates that describe activities (“drink beer”)
can be diagnosed by their compatibility with “for” adverbials and their
incompatibility with “in” adverbials. Predicates that describe accomplishments
(“drink the beer”) display the opposite pattern.

(2) a. Colin drank beer for/?in a minute.
b. Colin drank the beer ?for/in a minute.

At the same time, we see that the category that an eventuality description will
belong to depends at least in part on its arguments, here evidenced by the
choice between bare vs. definite singular “beer.” In capturing similar facts,
the mereological properties of (descriptions of) eventualities and of
individuals will show the way.

Key readings:

  • Davidson (1967) The Logical Form of Action Sentences.
  • Champollion (2015) The interaction of compositional semantics and event
  • Krifka (1989) Nominal Reference, Temporal Constitution and Quantification in
    Event Semantics.