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How does ‘bring’ (not) change to ‘give’?

  • Roey J. Gafter EMAIL logo , Scott Spicer and Mira Ariel
From the journal Folia Linguistica


This paper investigates a semantic change from ‘bring’ to ‘give’, and the language-specific factors that determine when it may happen. Drawing on a corpus of blogs and an acceptability judgment experiment, we demonstrate an ongoing change in the meaning of the Hebrew verb hevi, usually glossed as ‘bring’: older speakers are more likely to use hevi for unambiguous bring events, whereas younger speakers are more likely to use it in contexts also compatible with give events, although not in the full range of ‘give’ contexts. We argue that this change is facilitated by the specific discourse profile associated with the verb hevi: (1) frequent uses of hevi in the Goal-theme construction, the Hebrew functional equivalent of the English double object construction, creating a “bridging context” for semantic change (2) frequent uses of hevi in which there is no real-world motion, facilitating the bleaching of the ‘agent motion’ component. We then examine the English verb bring, which is not undergoing a similar change, and demonstrate that it has a different discourse profile (namely, far fewer double object constructions and no-motion uses). Thus, while a ‘bring’>‘give’ change is well-motivated and potentially possible, the factors enabling it to actually happen are determined by the predominant discourse pattern characteristic of the verb.


Mira Ariel gratefully acknowledges the support from the Israel Science Foundation grant no. 431/15. Scott Spicer gratefully acknowledges the support of the Northwestern University Undergraduate Research Grant. The authors would like to thank Tal Linzen for granting us access to his Israblog corpus and providing us with the data set. Finally, we wish to thank the anonymous reviewers at Folia Linguistica for providing much insightful feedback on this paper.


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Received: 2018-02-20
Revised: 2018-05-15
Accepted: 2019-02-31
Published Online: 2019-10-24
Published in Print: 2019-11-26

© 2019 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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