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On ambiguous past participles in Dutch

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From the journal


This article takes up the longstanding debate on the categorization of the past participle. This construction is known to exhibit the structural and semantic features of both adjectives and verbs. In this article, the question is addressed how the past participle should be categorized in contexts where both an adjectival and a verbal analysis are equally possible (such as in clauses with the stative verb to be). Previous research has focused on determining diagnostics to discriminate between the adjectival and verbal analysis in particular contexts of usage. In this article, however, it will be argued that even a combination of all state-of-the art criteria does not guarantee a full coverage of all past participles in actual language usage. In answer to this shortcoming, an alternative viewpoint is developed in which past participles are considered to be fundamentally ambiguous, unless a preference is indicated by additional contextual elements. This inherent ambiguity of past participles is supported by the conversational maxims of quantity that state that a contribution should only be as informative as is required to fulfill the goal of the conversation. In this perspective, contextual elements that point to a resultative or a processual interpretation are only added if conversational needs require the disambiguation of the past participle.

Correspondence address: Department of Linguistics, Ghent University, Blandijnberg 2, 9000 Ghent, Belgium.

Received: 2009-09-10
Revised: 2010-05-19
Published Online: 2011-05-02
Published in Print: 2011-May

© 2011 Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG, Berlin/New York

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