The inherent semantics of argument structure: The Case of the English ditransitive construction

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This paper argues that highly specific semantic constraints should be associated directly with the ditransitive argument structure, and not directly to the specific verbs involved. The proposal is contrasted with a recent proposal by Gropen et al. (1989), who argue that the constraints are the result of a semantic rule altering the verbs' inherent semantics. The analysis outlined here alleviates the need for lexical rules or transformations to operate on either syntactic or semantic structure, and also avoids a proliferation of new verb senses. At the same time, other important aspects of Gropen et al.'s theory are adopted; specifically, the need to circumscribe narrowly defined semantic subclasses characterized by local productivity is acknowledged. On the account presented here, the narrowly defined subclasses are understood to be subclasses that are conventionally associated with the construction, as opposed to subclasses that are conventionally allowed to undergo a lexical rule. In the second half of the paper, the specific semantic constraints are detailed, revealing a more specific semantic structure than is generally acknowledged. In particular, a polysemous semantics is argued for, with transfer between a volitional agent and a willing recipient as the central sense. Several general systematic metaphors are described and shown to license further extensions from the central sense.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)37-74
Number of pages38
JournalCognitive Linguistics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1992
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language


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