Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Detail #381: Zero-Copula and Zero-Have with some Animacy Hierarchies and Noun Class Considerations Thrown in

Let's consider a language where
Tiffany boss
means 'Tiffany is (a/the) boss' , but
Tiffany skateboard
means 'Tiffany has a skateboard'.

What could be the strategies that differentiates the two?

1. Semi-Word Classes
Even if the language conflates, say, adjectives and nouns, certain nouns will sort of tend to be applicable to things in a very general way - e.g. if colours are expressed as nouns (or nominal adjectives), it seems as though 'red(noun)' could refer to things of a whole lot greater range of variation than 'tractor' could. If it turns out a noun is statistically very likely to be used as an attribute, we could consider it "more adjectivey" than nouns that are less likely to appear as attributes. The more adjectivey a noun, the more likely it is to be understood as something that the person is rather than has. However, of course, in certain contexts
Tiffany cold
might signify that Tiffany has a cold one. Maybe when describing what she and her colleagues are drinking at after-work, in parallel with others:
Jean irish coffee, Lisette mulled cider, Tiffany cold.

For some nouns, there may not even really exist a difference in parsing:
John is sick
John has sick(ness)
The parenthesis is mainly there to show that for that particular adjective-noun, there's no difference between the abstract notion of 'disease' and the quality of being sick, or being a sick person. Again, parallel constructions could break this parsing:
Sean healthy son and John sick
 Sean has a healthy son, but John has a sick one.
2. Noun Classes and Animacy Hierarchies
Nouns of the same 'class' are parsed as 'be' rather than 'have', unless there are syntactical or contextual reasons not to. (See 4). Words close together on the animacy hierarchy are considered 'be'-words unless there are semantic clashes:
John husband: John is a husband
Patricia husband: Patricia has a husband
For some words where some kind of symmetry is implied, both ways of parsing kind of pass:
Lyndon friend: Lyndon is a friend, Lyndon has a friend
Regardless of the parsing, if Lyndon has a friend, he also probably is a friend of that friend.

3.  Abstract nouns depend on the concept itself and the subject: take 'guilt', for instance.
police guilty: police (have) the guilty one (in jail)
suspect guilty: the suspect is guilty
man guilty: depends on the man!
4. Things that 'force' a different parsing:

With symmetrical structures - "friend", for instance - some kind of reflexive marking or other transitivity marking could potentially "steer" the meaning in a less symmetric direction. This could also go for less symmetric things like husband/wife: John refl-poss husband: John has a husband.

With abstract nouns, pronouns could break the implicit 'bond' that affects meaning:
police he guilt: the police is guilty
suspect refl-poss guilt: the suspect has (apprehended?) the guilty part
man he guilt: the man is guilty
man refl-poss guilt: the man has the guilty one
The same structure also probably could override differences in the animacy hierarchy. This also gives a great reason to sometimes double a pronoun:
he guilt: ambiguous
he he guilt: he is guilty
he refl-poss guilt: he has the guilty one

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