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Theoretical Linguistics

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Volume 31, Issue 3 (Nov 2005)


On the limits of the Davidsonian approach: The case of copula sentences.

Claudia Maienborn
Published Online: 2005-11-11 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/thli.2005.31.3.275


Since Donald Davidson’s seminal work ‘‘The Logical Form of Action Sentences’’ (1967) event arguments have become an integral component of virtually every semantic theory. Over the past years Davidson’s proposal has been continuously extended such that nowadays event(uality) arguments are generally associated not only with action verbs but with predicates of all sorts. The reasons for such an extension are seldom explicitly justified. Most problematical in this respect is the case of stative expressions. By taking a closer look at copula sentences the present study assesses the legitimacy of stretching the Davidsonian notion of events and discusses its consequences. A careful application of some standard eventuality diagnostics (perception reports, combination with locative modifiers and manner adverbials) as well as some new diagnostics (behavior of certain degree adverbials) reveals that copular expressions do not behave as expected under a Davidsonian perspective: they fail all eventuality tests, regardless of whether they represent stage-level or individual-level predicates. In this respect, copular expressions pattern with stative verbs like know, hate, and resemble, which in turn differ sharply from state verbs like stand, sit, and sleep. The latter pass all of the eventuality tests and therefore qualify as true ‘‘Davidsonian state’’ expressions. On the basis of these empirical observations and taking up ideas of Kim (1969, 1976) and Asher (1993, 2000), an alternative account of copular expressions (and stative verbs) is provided, according to which the copula introduces a referential argument for a temporally bound property exemplification (= ‘‘Kimian state’’). Considerations on some logical properties, viz. closure conditions and the latent infinite regress of eventualities, suggest that supplementing Davidsonian eventualities with Kimian states may yield not only a more adequate analysis of copula sentences but also a better understanding of eventualities in general.

About the article

Published Online: 2005-11-11

Published in Print: 2005-11-18

Citation Information: Theoretical Linguistics, ISSN (Online) 1613-4060, ISSN (Print) 0301-4428, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/thli.2005.31.3.275. Export Citation

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