Colloquium this week: Professor Lisa Levinson (Oakland University)


By Andries W. Coetzee
Jan 27, 2013 Bookmark and Share

Lisa Levinson

Our colloquium speaker this week will be Professor Lisa Levinson from Oakland University. Lisa received her PhD in 2007 from NYU, and is an expert on morphosemantics. She describes her research as follows: 

"I want to better understand what the atomic units of compositional semantics are, and the extent to which those atomic units can be mapped to atomic morphosyntactic constituents. In my recent work, I've been pursuing the hypothesis that morphology is akin to syntax, in the tradition of Distributed Morphology, and exploring the predictions this makes for compositional semantics at the morphological level. To this end, I am working to integrate the study of lexical and 'subatomic' meaning into the fold of formal semantics. I'm also pursuing psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic approaches to investigating related questions of lexical representation."

Full information about her presentation, including a title and abstract, is given below.

When: Friday, February 1st, 2013

Where: 2001 LSA Building

Adding Causativity: (Anti-)Causatives Across Languages and Levels of Representation

The representation of causativity in verbs participating in the cross-linguistic "lexical" causative alternation, in which verbs apparently alternate between intransitive (“The ice melted”) and transitive (“The sun melted the ice”) realizations, has been an ongoing source of debate. Dowty (1979) proposed that the transitive variant contains an additional CAUSE relation (see also Lakoff 1965, Pesetsky 1995, Piñón 2001, Pylkkänen 2002, Hartl 2003, Rappaport Hovav and Levin in press).  On this view, only the transitive is truly "causative."

However, others have argued that the intransitive also encodes causativity, and that the difference reduces to the arguments introduced (Chierchia 1989/2004, Levin and Rappaport Hovav 1995, Kallulli 2006, Alexiadou et al 2006, Schäfer 2008, Koontz-Garboden 2009). In this talk, I will argue that the truth conditional semantics is as proposed by Dowty, whereby the transitive form is more semantically complex with respect to causativity. I will present supporting evidence from both intuitions about entailments and experimental data. These data from two behavioral studies show increased reading times for transitives in the alternation in comparison with phonologically-identical intransitives, independent of the difference in the number of arguments. I will further argue, however, that in terms of the linguistic representations which derive the truth conditions, the two variants are in another sense equally complex. This will be linked to the observation that the morphology associated with the alternation does not reflect the additional causative complexity proposed by Dowty, nor a reliable indication of any directional derivation between the transitive and intransitive variants.