Against a Davidsonian analysis of copula sentences

  • Semantic research over the past three decades has provided impressive confirmation of Donald Davidsons famous claim that “there is a lot of language we can make systematic sense of if we suppose events exist” (Davidson 1980:137). Nowadays, Davidsonian event arguments are no longer reserved only for action verbs (as Davidson originally proposed) or even only for the category of verbs, but instead are widely assumed to be associated with any kind of predicate (e.g. Higginbotham 2000, Parsons 2000).1 The following quotation from Higginbotham and Ramchand (1997) illustrates the reasoning that motivates this move: "Once we assume that predicates (or their verbal, etc. heads) have a position for events, taking the many consequences that stem therefrom, as outlined in publications originating with Donald Davidson (1967), and further applied in Higginbotham (1985, 1989), and Terence Parsons (1990), we are not in a position to deny an event-position to any predicate; for the evidence for, and applications of, the assumption are the same for all predicates. (Higginbotham and Ramchand 1997:54)" In fact, since Davidson’s original proposal the burden of proof for postulating event arguments seems to have shifted completely, leading Raposo and Uriagereka (1995), for example, to the following verdict: "it is unclear what it means for a predicate not to have a Davidsonian argument (Raposo and Uriagereka 1995:182)" That is, Davidsonian eventuality arguments apparently have become something like a trademark for predicates in general. The goal of the present paper is to subject this view of the relationship between predicates and events to real scrutiny. By taking a closer look at the simplest independent predicational structure – viz. copula sentences – I will argue that current Davidsonian approaches tend to stretch the notion of events too far, thereby giving up much of its linguistic and ontological usefulness. More specifically, the paper will tackle the following three questions: 1. Do copula sentences support the current view of the inherent event-relatedness of predicates? 2. If not, what is a possible alternative to an event-based analysis of copula sentences? 3. What does this tell us about Davidsonian events? The paper is organized as follows: Section 2 first reviews current event-based analyses of copula sentences and then gives a brief summary of the Davidsonian notion of events. Section 3 examines the behavior of copula sentences with respect to some standard (as well as some new) eventuality diagnostics. Copula expressions will turn out to fail all eventuality tests. They differ sharply from state verbs like stand, sit, sleep in this respect. (The latter pass all eventuality tests and therefore qualify as true “Davidsonian state” expressions.) On the basis of these observations, section 4 provides an alternative account of copula sentences that combines Kim’s (1969, 1976) notion of property exemplifications with Ashers (1993, 2000) conception of abstract objects. Specifically, I will argue that the copula introduces a referential argument for a temporally bound property exemplification (= “Kimian state”). The proposal is implemented within a DRT framework. Finally, section 5 offers some concluding remarks and suggests that supplementing Davidsonian eventualities by Kimian states not only yields a more adequate analysis for copula expressions and the like but may also improve our treatment of events.

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Author:Claudia Maienborn
Document Type:Conference Proceeding
Year of Completion:2008
Year of first Publication:2003
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Release Date:2008/11/03
Page Number:20
auch in: M. Kadowaki / S. Kawahara, NELS 33 Proceedings, GLSA, S. 167-186.
Source:M. Kadowaki / S. Kawahara, NELS 33 Proceedings, GLSA, S. 167-186.
Dewey Decimal Classification:4 Sprache / 40 Sprache / 400 Sprache
Linguistik-Klassifikation:Linguistik-Klassifikation: Syntax
Licence (German):License LogoDeutsches Urheberrecht