This is the abstract of a TULCON14 presentation.
Cass Michael Kramer (Stanford University)
The English resultative construction (1)—a type of causative construction—has long sparked discussion about why it disallows certain adjectives, even though they are acceptable in other causatives (2). This presentation refines Wechsler’s prominent Maximal Endpoint Hypothesis (MEPH; 2005) to address empirical challenges to its account of this behavior.
(1) He hammered the metal flat/smooth/shiny/*beautiful/*safe/*tubular.
(2) He hammered the metal, causing it to become flat/smooth/shiny/beautiful/safe/tubular.
The MEPH states that resultatives with non-punctual verbs need a gradable adjective with a maximally bounded scale (e.g. Kennedy & McNally 2005). The inherent scalar bound serves as an aspectual bound for the event, providing the resultative’s requisite telicity. This restriction doesn’t allow for resultatives with adjectives that have minimal endpoints (e.g. damp, dirty, sick) or open scales (e.g. long, wide, hot). In response to several challenges (see Iwata 2020) based on the occurrence of such resultatives (3), this presentation shows corpus evidence that contextual scale bounds—rather than strictly inherent ones—also suffice to license telicity, thus allowing for some min. endpoint and open-scale adjectives. The data also suggest that the dimensionality of an adjective’s property scale (in the sense of Sassoon 2013) can predict the min. endpoint/open scale adjectives that occur in resultatives, as well as the max. endpoint adjectives that do not. Both findings support the foundation of the MEPH—resultatives require a property scale with a valid structure and some form of maximal bound.
(3) Jacob pulls his mouth wide with his fingers and squinches his eyes shut… (COCA)
To examine these constructions, I collected data on 8 max. endpoint and 18 min. endpoint and open-scale adjectives from COCA. For each sample, I counted the total number of causative constructions (including resultatives) as a benchmark for the adjective’s use with causative events. I then computed the ratio of resultatives out of the total causatives. Three of the 8 max. endpoint adjectives appeared in resultatives for 70% or more of their causative uses; the rest occurred in none, or next to none (< 3%). Ten of the 18 min. endpoint/open-scale adjectives appeared in resultatives (>10%), albeit with lower resultative ratios than the attested max. endpoint adjectives.
The occurrence of min. endpoint and open-scale resultatives seems to contradict the MEPH, as these adjectives do not have inherent maximal bounds. However, adjectives are implicitly restricted if the entity they describe has a relevant physical limitation (e.g. in (3), the maximum width of a mouth). The corpus data reveal that min. endpoint and open-scale resultatives are predicated of precisely such entities, showing that these contextual limits can indeed provide a scalar bound sufficient to lend telicity to an event, allowing for a resultative.
The study uncovered an additional pattern: the max. endpoint adjectives that do not occur in resultatives are ‘multi-dimensional’—their values depend on several scalar properties of the entity they describe (e.g. perfect, safe, healthy). By contrast, the min.
endpoint and open-scale adjectives found in resultatives are uni-dimensional, only representing a single scalar property (e.g. long, wide, crooked). This trend indicates a requirement on adjective scales implicit in the MEPH—they must be continuous in order to derive the necessary relation between the primary event and the property scale. Multi-dimensional adjectives do not define continuous scales, so they cannot form this relation, and thus do not license the telicity required for a resultative.
In summary, an adjective scale’s continuity and boundedness (inherent or contextual) are both critical to forming a resultative, which reaffirms the intuition underlying the MEPH.
Davies, Mark. (2008-) The Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA). https://www.english-corpora.org/coca/.
Iwata, Seizi. (2020). English Resultatives: A force-recipient account. John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Kennedy, Christopher, and Louise McNally. (2005). “Scale Structure, Degree Modification, and the Semantics of Gradable Predicates.” Language (81): 345–381.
Sassoon, Galit W. (2013). “A typology of multidimensional adjectives.” Journal of Semantics (30): 335-380.
Wechsler, Stephen. (2005). “Resultatives Under the Event-Argument Homomorphism Model of Telicity.” In The Syntax of Aspect—Deriving Thematic and Aspectual Interpretation, ed. Nomi Erteschik-Shir and Tova Rapoport, 255–273. Oxford University Press.