Title: Experiential Constructions in Latin: Some Syncronic and Diachronic Remarks
This presentation shows the results of a corpus-based investigation on the morphosyntactic expression of some Experiential constructions in Classical Latin and their subsequent development from Latin to Old Italian. In my study I have adopted a cognitive-functional constructional approach (Croft 2001, Croft & Cruse 2004, Barðdal 2008), according to which constructions are taken to be form–function pairings which may carry meaning and thus be semantically defined and characterized - at least to some extent.
The syncronic survey is based on selected works by Caesar, Cicero, Sallust and Nepos and concerns the array of argument structure constructions used to express experiential situations. I have thus provided a semantic characterization of each construction attested in my corpus, in order to define the semantic scope within which it is applied with regard to the experiencehood domain. A particularly interesting aspect concerns the cut-off point at which Latin extends the transitive case-frame to verbs and clauses which do not fulfill all the features traditionally associated to semantic transitivity: as Bossong (1998) has shown, most European languages are "generalizing" in the sense that they apply the transitive pattern to a wide number of experiential (semantically intransitive, or low-transitive) situations. A crucial question to be addressed is thus: when does Latin privileges generalized schemas, and when, alternatively, the competing force of semantics prevail over the 'autonomy of syntax' thus giving rise to non-canonical subject constructions? I will show that there are plausible generalizations to be made about preferred paths at the syntax–semantics interface and that some semantic classes of verbs are more likely to be "generalized" or "inverted" than others.
The diachronic investigation is based on a recent definition of syntactic productivity, viewed as a function of type frequency, semantic coherence, and the inverse correlation between these two (Barðdal 2008). I will restrict myself to a narrower set of constructions that shed considerable light on the issue of how syntactic productivity can be characterized in this semantic domain in the change occurring between Latin and Old Italian. I thus first describe each Latin construction in terms of type frequency and semantic coherence, and subsequently test my predictions about their productivity using an Old Italian corpus. In doing so, I also discuss the notion of semantic coherence offering two computational methods (Hierarchical Agglomerative Cluster analysis and Multi-dimensional Scaling analysis) which aim at describing how semantic (dis)similarity among verbs can be measured and represented within a given semantic space.
Barðdal, J., 2008. Productivity. Evidence from Case and Argument Structure in Icelandic. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Bossong, G., 1998. Le marquage de l'experient dans les langues de l'Europe. In Feuillet, J. (ed.), Actance et valence dans les langues de l'Europe [Empirical Approaches to Language Typology; EUROTYP 20-2]. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 259–294.
Croft, W., 2001. Radical Construction Grammar: Syntactic Theory in Typological Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Croft, W. and A.D. Cruse, 2004. Cognitive Linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.