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Semantics - Lexical Structures and Adjectives

Ed. by Maienborn, Claudia / Heusinger, Klaus von / Portner, Paul

Series:Mouton Reader

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February 2019
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1. Semantic features and primes

Bierwisch, Manfred


Semantic features or primes, like phonetic and morpho-syntactic features, are usually considered as basic elements from which the structure of linguistic expressions is built up. Only a small set of semantic features seems to be uncontroversial, however. In this article, semantic primes are considered as basic elements of Semantic Form, the interface level between linguistic expressions and the full range of mental structures representing the content to be expressed. Semantic primes are not just features, but elements of a functor-argument-structure, on which the internal organization of lexical items and their combinatorial properties, including their Thematic Roles, is based. Three types of semantic primes are distinguished: Systematic elements, that are related to morpho-syntactic conditions like tense or causativity; idiosyncratic features, not corresponding to grammatical distinctions, but likely to manifest primitive conceptual conditions like color or taste; and a large range of elements called dossiers, which correspond to hybrid mental configurations, integrating varying modalities, but providing unified conceptual entities. (Idiosyncratic features and dossiers together account for what is sometimes called distinguishers or completers.) A restricted subsystem of semantic primes can reasonably be assumed to be directly fixed by Universal Grammar, while the majority of semantic primes is presumably due to general principles of mental organization and triggered by experience.

Citation Information

Manfred Bierwisch (2019). 1. Semantic features and primes. In Claudia Maienborn, Klaus von Heusinger, Paul Portner (Eds.), Semantics - Lexical Structures and Adjectives (pp. 1–46). Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110626391-001

Book DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110626391

Online ISBN: 9783110626391

© 2019 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Munich/BostonGet Permission

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