The project investigates semantic-pragmatic conditions on case assignment to NP arguments of verbs. In phase 1, the project focused on the role of referential context in Differential Object Marking (DOM). Under the term "referential context" we understand a structured architecture of semantic-pragmatic features such as the intrinsic feature of animacy, and discourse related semantic features of NP arguments such as definiteness, specificity, topicality and referential persistence. In phase 1 of the SFB we determined detailed feature architectures which model the interaction of different factors of referential context triggering DOM in Mongolian, Romanian, Spanish, Turkish and Uzbek. Our empirical studies showed that DOM is induced not only by the properties of the object but emerges from the interaction between properties of the object and properties of the verb. This interaction shows up both synchronically and diachronically. However, we did not achieve a full understanding of this interaction because verbal semantics seems to influence DOM only as a secondary factor, i.e. only if particular semantic features of the direct object are present. (For more information about the 1. Phase of the project see here.)
Our aim in phase 2 is to explore the impact of the interaction between verbal semantics and the properties of NPs on semantically induced case marking. We will extend our analysis to other types of semantically triggered case variation in Direct Object/Oblique Alternations, in Dative Alternation and Locative Alternation. In such alternations, the same nominal semantic features as in DOM constructions play a role, while the role of verbal semantics is more prominent and better described in the literature. Our project brings two new perspectives into the discussion on argument alternations: (a) the sensitivity of argument alternations to universal semantic scales and feature architectures and (b) the combination of argument alternations with DOM. To account for the interaction between verbal semantics and the semantic properties of NP arguments (i) we will test the application of feature architectures we developed in the first phase of the project in Direct Object/Oblique alternations, (ii) we will analyze the interaction of DOM with argument promotion devices provided by Dative Alternation and Locative Alternation, and (iii) we will evaluate different approaches to argument encoding such as approaches based on event decomposition, aspectual, type-shift and entailment based approaches. We will elaborate the notion of Affectedness, considered by Hopper and Thompson (1980) to contribute to increased Transitivity in a clause, since we think that this notion provides a useful conceptual link between verbal semantics and semantic properties of NP arguments and should be a crucial ingredient of a theory of argument encoding. Our long-term goal is to develop a theory that models the influence of the referential context on case assignment. We believe that our investigations will enable us to develop ingredients for this theory, and that the method of cross-linguistic comparison we use will contribute to the ongoing exploration of the principled relation between verbal semantics and case assignment.
A detailed description of the project can be found here.