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Theoretical Linguistics

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Lexical approaches to argument structure

Stefan Müller
  • Corresponding author
  • Institut für Deutsche und Niederländische Philologie, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany
  • Email:
/ Stephen Wechsler
  • Department of Linguistics, The University of Texas at Austin, USA
  • Email:
Published Online: 2014-07-04 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/tl-2014-0001


In lexical approaches to argument structure, lexical items include argument structures. The argument structure represents essential information about potential argument selection and expression, but abstracts away from the actual local phrasal structure. In contrast, phrasal approaches, which are common in Construction Grammar, reject such lexical argument structures. We present evidence for lexical approaches and against phrasal ones: Lexical argument structure is necessary to explain idiosyncratic lexical selection of arguments. Abstraction from phrase structure and word order is shown by passive voice, category conversions, word-level coordination, and partial fronting. Lexical argument structure simplifies the grammar by allowing componential analysis. The phrasal alternative relies on the multiple inheritance of constructions, which is fraught with unsolved problems. Putative evidence for the phrasal approach from acquisition, psycholinguistics, and statistical distribution either fails to distinguish the two approaches, or supports the lexical approach. We conclude in favor of the lexical approach.

Keywords: argument structure; lexicalism; valency; coordination; construction grammar; HPSG; GPSG; categorial grammar; neo-Davidsonianism; morphology; syntax; language acquisition; coercion; statistics

About the article

Published Online: 2014-07-04

Published in Print: 2014-07-01

Citation Information: Theoretical Linguistics, ISSN (Online) 1613-4060, ISSN (Print) 0301-4428, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/tl-2014-0001. Export Citation

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