Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

, Volume 37, Issue 1, pp 215–261 | Cite as

What about lexical semantics if syntax is the only generative component of the grammar?

A case study on word meaning in German
  • Tillmann ProssEmail author


This paper explores the semantic consequences of the principle of containment embodied by the popular assumption that word formation is entirely syntactic and that there is no generative lexicon. According to the principle of containment, the analysis and structure of a given form must also be contained within the analysis of any structure derived from that form. The implications of the containment principle for the analysis of word meaning are elucidated with a detailed case study of ambiguous German nominalizations. The resulting analysis of ambiguous German nominalizations is employed as a probe into the structure and analysis of contained constructions to derive novel insights about the syntax and semantics of adjectival participles in German.


Lexical semantics Syntax-semantics interface Word formation Ambiguity Nominalization Participle Adjectival passive Causatives Possession German 



I would like to thank the handling editor Gillian Ramchand and three anonymous reviewers for having carefully read earlier versions of the paper. The paper profited very much from their instructive and detailed comments. I am also indebted to the reviewers and participants of the 3rd Workshop on Aspect and Argument Structure of Adjectives and Participles (WASAAP 3), the 6th Workshop on Nominalizations (JeNom 6) as well as the participants of the syntax/semantics research group at the University of Texas at Austin for helpful comments on earlier versions of the paper. I would particularly like to thank Antje Roßdeutscher and Hans Kamp for reading and commenting on numerous earlier versions of the paper. All remaining errors are my own. The research reported in this paper was supported by a grant of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) to the project B4 “Lexikalische Information und ihre Entfaltung im Kontext von Wortbildung, Satz und Diskurs,” as part of the Collaborative Research Center SFB 732 “Incremental Specification in Context.”


  1. Ackema, Peter, and Ad Neeleman. 2004. Beyond morphology: Interface conditions on word formation. Oxford: Oxford University Press. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alexiadou, Artemis. 2001. Functional structure in nominals: Nominalization and ergativity. Amsterdam: Benjamins. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Alexiadou, Artemis. 2009. On the role of syntactic locality in morphological processes: The case of (Greek) derived nominals. In Quantification, definiteness, and nominalization, eds. Anastasia Giannakidou and Monika Rathert, 253–280. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar
  4. Alexiadou, Artemis, and Gianina Iordǎchioaia. 2014. Two syntactic strategies to derive deadjectival nominalizations. Anglica Wratislaviensia 52: 65–83. Google Scholar
  5. Asher, Nicholas. 2011. Lexical meaning in context: A web of words. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Asher, Nicholas, and James Pustejovsky. 2006. A type composition logic for the generative lexicon. Journal of Cognitive Science 6: 1–38. Google Scholar
  7. Bach, Emmon. 1986. Natural language metaphysics. In Logic, methodology, and philosophy of science 7, eds. Ruth Barcan Marcus, Georg J. W. Dorn, and Paul Weingartner, 573–595. Amsterdam: North Holland. Google Scholar
  8. Baker, Mark. 1988. Incorporation. Chicago: Chicago University Press. Google Scholar
  9. Bǎsić, Monika. 2010. On the morphological make-up of nominalizations in Serbian. In The syntax of nominalizations across languages and frameworks, eds. Artemis Alexiadou and Monika Rathert, 39–66. Berlin: de Gruyter. Google Scholar
  10. Beavers, John, and Andrew Koontz-Garboden. 2017. Change of state verbs and the semantics of roots. In West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics (WCCFL) 34, 347–354. Google Scholar
  11. Bierwisch, Manfred. 1989. Event nominalizations: Proposals and problems. Linguistische Studien A 194: 1–73. Google Scholar
  12. Bierwisch, Manfred. 2007. Semantic form as interface. In Interfaces and interface conditions, ed. Andreas Späth, 1–32. Berlin: de Gruyter. Google Scholar
  13. Borer, Hagit. 1999. Deconstructing the construct. In Beyond principles and parameters, eds. Kyle Johnson and Ian G. Roberts, 43–89. Dordrecht: Kluwer. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Borer, Hagit. 2003. Exo-skeletal vs. endo-skeletal explanations. In The nature of explanation in linguistic theory, eds. John Moore and Maria Polinsky, 31–67. Stanford: CSLI Publications. Google Scholar
  15. Borer, Hagit. 2005. Structuring sense (vol. 1 and 2). Oxford: Oxford University Press. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Borer, Hagit. 2013. Structuring sense (vol. 3). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar
  17. Bruening, Benjamin. 2014. Word formation is syntactic: Adjectival passives in English. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 32 (2): 363–422. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Chomsky, Noam. 1995. The minimalist program. Cambridge: MIT Press. Google Scholar
  19. Davidson, Donald. 1967. The logical form of action sentences. In The logic and decision of action, ed. Nicholas Rescher, 81–95. Pittsburgh: The University of Pittsburgh Press. Google Scholar
  20. Demske, Ulrike. 2002. Nominalization and argument structure in early new high German. In Nominalization, eds. Ewald Lang and Ilse Zimmermann, Vol. 27, 67–90. Berlin: ZAS Papers in Linguistics. Google Scholar
  21. Dewell, Robert B. 2015. The semantics of German verb prefixes. Amsterdam: Benjamins. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Dowty, David. R. 1979. Word meaning and Montague grammar. New York: Springer. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Ehrich, Veronika, and Irene Rapp. 2000. Sortale Bedeutung und Argumentstruktur: ung-Nominalisierungen im Deutschen. Zeitschrift für Sprachwissenschaft 19 (2): 245–300. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Embick, David. 2004. On the structure of resultative participles in English. Linguistic Inquiry 35: 355–392. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Embick, David. 2009. Roots, states, and stative passives. Handout presented at the Roots Workshop, University of Stuttgart. Google Scholar
  26. Francez, Itamar, and Andrew Koontz-Garboden. 2017. Semantics and morphosyntactic variation. Oxford: Oxford University Press. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Gehrke, Berit. 2015. Adjectival participles, event kind modification and pseudo-incorporation. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 33 (3): 897–938. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Grimm, Scott, and Louise McNally. 2013. No ordered arguments needed for nouns. In 19th Amsterdam colloquium, eds. Maria Aloni, Michael Franke, and Floris Roelofsen, 123–130. Google Scholar
  29. Grimshaw, Jane. 1990. Argument structure. Cambridge: MIT Press. Google Scholar
  30. Günther, Hartmut. 1974. Das System der Verben mit be- in der deutschen Sprache der Gegenwart. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Halle, Morris, and Alec Marantz. 1993. Distributed morphology and the pieces of inflection. In The view from building 20: Essays in linguistics in honor of Sylvian Bromberger, eds. Kenneth Hale and Samuel Jay Kaiser, 111–176. Cambridge: MIT Press. Google Scholar
  32. Hamm, Fritz, and Torgrim Solstad. 2010. Reambiguation: On the non-monotonicity of disambiguation. In Empirical issues in syntax and semantics, eds. Oliver Bonami and Patricia Cabredo Hofherr, Vol. 8, 1–28. Google Scholar
  33. Harley, Heidi. 2009. The morphology of nominalizations and the syntax of vP. In Quantification, definiteness, and nominalization, eds. Anastasia Giannakidou and Monika Rathert. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar
  34. Harley, Heidi. 2011. A minimalist approach of argument structure. In The Oxford handbook of linguistic minimalism, ed. Cedric Boeckx. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar
  35. Harley, Heidi. 2013. Semantics in distributed morphology. In Semantics: An international handbook of natural language meaning, eds. Claudia Maienborn, Klaus von Heusinger, and Paul Portner. Berlin: de Gruyter. Google Scholar
  36. Jackendoff, Ray. 1988. Conceptual semantics. In Meaning and mental representations, eds. Umberto Eco, Marco Santambrogio, and Patrizia Violi, 81–97. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Google Scholar
  37. Kamp, Hans, Josef van Genabith, and Uwe Reyle. 2011. Discourse representation theory. In Handbook of philosophical logic, eds. Dov M. Gabbay and Franz Guenthner, Vol. 15, 125–394. Berlin: Springer. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Kennedy, Chris, and Beth Levin. 2008. Measure of change: The adjectival core of degree achievements. In Adjectives and adverbs: Syntax, semantics and discourse, eds. Louise McNally and Chris Kennedy, 156–182. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar
  39. Kratzer, Angelika. 2000. Building statives. In Annual meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society (BLS) 26, 385–399. Google Scholar
  40. Kratzer, Angelika. 2005. Building resultatives. In Event arguments: Foundations and applications, eds. Claudia Maienbaum and Angelika Wöllstein-Leisten. Tübingen: Niemeyer. Google Scholar
  41. Levin, Beth. 1993. English verb classes and alternations: A preliminary investigation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Google Scholar
  42. Levin, Beth. 1999. Objecthood: An event structure perspective. In Chicago Linguistic Society (CLS) 35, 223–247. Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society. Google Scholar
  43. Levin, Beth, and Malka Rappaport. 1986. The formation of adjectival passives. Linguistic Inquiry 17: 623–661. Google Scholar
  44. Levin, Beth, and Malka Rappaport Hovav. 1995. Unaccusativity at the syntax-semantics interface. Cambridge: MIT Press. Google Scholar
  45. Maienborn, Claudia. 2005. On the limits of the Davidsonian approach: The case of copula sentences. Theoretical Linguistics 31 (3): 275–316. Google Scholar
  46. Maienborn, Claudia. 2007. On Davidsonian and Kimian states. In Existence: Syntax and semantics, eds. Ileana Comorovski and Klaus von Heusinger, 107–130. Dordrecht: Kluwer. Google Scholar
  47. Maienborn, Claudia. 2009. Building event-based ad hoc properties: On the interpretation of adjectival passives. In Sinn und Bedeutung 13, eds. Arndt Riester and Torgrim Solstad, 31–46. Google Scholar
  48. Marantz, Alec. 1997. No escape from syntax: Don’t try morphological analysis in the privacy of your own lexicon. In University of Pennsylvania working papers in linguistics, Vol. 4, Issue 2, Article 14. Google Scholar
  49. Marantz, Alec. 2005. Objects out of the lexicon: Objects as events. Handout presented at the University of Vienna. Available at Accessed 30 March 2018.
  50. McIntyre, Andrew. 2015. Event modifiers in (German) adjectival participles: Remarks on Gehrke. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 33: 939–953. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Montague, Richard. 1973. The proper treatment of quantification in ordinary English. Approaches to Natural Language 49: 221–242. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Myler, Neil. 2016. Building and interpreting possession sentences. Cambridge: MIT Press. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Newmeyer, Frederick. 2009. Current challenges to the lexicalist hypothesis. In Time and again: Theoretical perspectives on formal linguistics. In honor of D. Terence Langendoen, eds. William D. Lewis, Simin Karimi, Heidi Harley, and Scott O. Farrar, 91–117. Amsterdam: Benjamins. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Orilia, Francesco, and Chris Swoyer. 2016. Properties, Winter 2016 edn. In The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta. Stanford University: Metaphysics Research Lab. Google Scholar
  55. Pross, Tillmann. 2015. Mono-eventive verbs of emission and their bi-eventive nominalizations. In North East Linguistic Society (NELS) 45, eds. Thui Buy and Denis Özyıldız, Vol. 1, 257–266. Amherst: GLSA. Google Scholar
  56. Pustejovsky, James. 1995. The generative lexicon. Cambridge: MIT Press. Google Scholar
  57. Ramchand, Gillian. 2008. Verb meaning and the lexicon: A first phase syntax. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Rappaport Hovav, Malka, and Beth Levin. 1998. Building verb meanings. In The projection of arguments: Lexical and compositional factors, eds. Miriam Butt and Willi Geuder, 97–134. Stanford: CSLI. Google Scholar
  59. Reichenbach, Hans. 1947. Elements of symbolic logic. London: The Macmillan Company. Google Scholar
  60. Roßdeutscher, Antje. 2010. German -ung-formation: An explanation of formation and interpretation in a root-based account. Linguistische Berichte. Sonderheft 17: 101–132. Google Scholar
  61. Roßdeutscher, Antje. 2016. Scale based particles and prefixes in German de-adjectival verbs. Handout presented at the Workshop on Aspect and Argument Structure of Adjectives and Participles (WAASAP) 3, University of Lille 3. Google Scholar
  62. Roßdeutscher, Antje, and Hans Kamp. 2010. Syntactic and semantic constraints on the formation and interpretation of ung-Nouns. In Nominalisations across languages and frameworks, eds. Artemis Alexiadou and Monika Rathert. Berlin: de Gruyter. Google Scholar
  63. Roy, Isabelle. 2010. Deadjectival nominalizations and the structure of the adjective. In The syntax of nominalizations across languages and frameworks, eds. Artemis Alexiadou and Monika Rathert. 129–158. Berlin: de Gruyter. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Starke, Michael. 2009. Nanosyntax: A short primer to a new approach to language. Nordlyd 36 (1): 1–6. Google Scholar
  65. Stassen, Leon. 2009. Predicative possession. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar
  66. Steriade, Donca. 2016. The morphome vs similarity-based syncretism: The Latin t-stem derivative. In The morphome debate, eds. Ana Luís and Ricardo Bermúdez-Otero, 112–172. Oxford: Oxford University Press. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Travis, Lisa. 1984. Parameters and effects of word order variation. PhD diss., MIT. Google Scholar
  68. van Hout, Angeliek, and Tom Roeper. 1998. Events and aspectual structure in distributed morphology. In Roundtable on argument structure and aspect, ed. Heidi Harley, 175–199. Cambridge MITWPL. Google Scholar
  69. Vendler, Zeno. 1967. Facts and events. In Linguistics in philosophy. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Google Scholar
  70. von Stechow, Arnim. 1996. The different readings of wieder ‘again’: A structural account. Journal of Semantics 13: 87–138. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Wasow, Thomas. 1977. Transformations and the lexicon. In Formal syntax, eds. Peter Culicover, Adrian Akmajian, and Thomas Wasow, 327–360. New York: Academic Press. Google Scholar
  72. Wunderlich, Dieter. 1987. An investigation of lexical composition: The case of German be- verbs. Linguistics 25: 283–331. CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of StuttgartStuttgartGermany

Personalised recommendations