Event Structure

What is an event? An event is a conceptual happening corresponding to the meaning of a semantics. For example, in the sentence I ran five miles, the event begins when I begin running, and ends when I have traversed 5 miles from my starting point. Events can have properties much like Nouns can have adjectives. So you can have a tall [giraffe], a giraffe who is taller than average giraffe, and you can have a quick [me-running of five miles] (I ran 5 miles quickly), a running of five miles that was quick for me. Some of these properties, like the ones are not syntactically relevant. That is, tall giraffe can be used anywhere where giraffe can be, and die on Thursday or die quickly can be used anywhere die can.  albeit occasionally redundantly. This is a natural consequence of our recursive grammar. On the other hand, as we have observed, there are some such properties which are restricted in their application. Consider the following:

a plane

‘A plane’ is singular, whereas ‘planes’ is plural. First, as we can see in the following sentences, ‘a plane’ takes a singular auxiliary verb was, whereas ‘planes’ takes the singular auxiliary verb were:

(31a) The plane was/*were flying.
(31b) The planes were *was/were flying.

Moreover, conceptually, they ‘a dog’ refers to one entity*, whereas ‘dogs’ refers to multiple entities, so it is clear that one should be singular and the other plural. This has interesting implications. Plural objects can occupy a number of different locations (being made up of multiple things), whereas singular objects (without being broken down) cannot.

(32a) The plane was scattered across the world
(32b) Planes were scattered across the world

Finally, duration verbs like ‘all night’ or ‘for five minutes’ can occur only with verbs that imply a change of state if the object is plural, not singular.

(33a) *The saboteur broke the plane all night.
(33b) The saboteur broke planes all night.

However, there are some types of entities that, while appearing to denote multiple entities are syntactically singular, but semantically confused.

(31c) The fleet (of planes) was/*were flying.
(32c) The fleet of planes was scattered across the world.
(33c) *The saboteur broke the fleet of planes all night.

(31d) The water was/*were wet
(32d) Water was scattered across the floor.
(33d) The thirsty man drank water all night.

This leaves us with four categories of verbs. As good linguists, whenever we see 4 categories, a thought that must come to mind is that these 4  categories could be mapped to two independent properties. In this case, I follow Jackendoff (for now) in calling these qualities boundedness and internal structure. Something is bounded iff dividing it up does not yield something of the same type, and something has internal structure iff it has meaningful subparts. I posit the same four categories that he does

Individual – [+b -i] – A dog
Group –          [+b+i] – A pack of dogs
Substance –  [- b -i] – Dog (as in there was dog all over the road)
Aggregate –  [- b+i] – Dogs

As we can see, most words can be made into the four types, even where it seems semantically strange. However, these noun properties also apply to events (this makes some sense, as we can treat events like nouns, such as with the word ‘earthquake’, or any gerund).

However, instead of being bound and internally structured in space, events are so in time: the subject matter of my next post.

*Remember, these entities’ classifications are determined by our mental physics, not real-world physics. A dog is made up of many things, but the human brain sees it as one thing.


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