LingLang Lunch (4/9/2014): Kyle Rawlins (Johns Hopkins University)

‘About’ attitudes

A central problem in the linguistic analysis of attitude reports since Grimshaw (1979) is the relationship between argument structure, selectional ‘frames’, and the lexical semantics of attitude predicates. While it is often acknowledged that an account of the lexical semantics of these predicates should apply across frames, at a practical level most analyses take the classical (and roughly, post-Hintikkan) strategy of assuming different lexical entries for different argument structures. In this talk I examine the problem through the lens of the interaction of attitude predicates with `about’ phrases, as in (1-3):

(1) Alfonso knows about {Joanna / why Joanna was late}.
(2) Alfonso wondered about {Joanna / why Joanna was late}.
(3) Alfonso lied about {Joanna / why Joanna was late}.

I show that ‘about’ phrases are extremely productive and systematic, show up in a substantial range of contexts beyond the verbal, and require a compositional analysis (contra Pesetsky 1982). Moreover, they require an analysis that cross-cuts other selectional properties of attitude predicates, i.e. they cannot be reduced to any particular alternative frame, such as question embedding. The facts about ‘about’ lead to an analysis on which attitude verbs are (following Kratzer 2006, Hacquard 2006 a.o.) neo-Davidsonian predicates. ‘About’-phrases indicate the relationship (formalized in Lewis’s 1988 theory of aboutness) between the ‘content’ of an attitude/report/etc eventuality, and an issue characterized by the internal argument of ‘about’. This naturally leads to an analysis of the semantics of the argument structure of attitude predicates where, following Kratzer (2006), all apparent arguments compose via applicative-like operations encoded by items such as ‘that’, ‘about’, and the Q operator, and argument structure differences do not stand in the way of a unified cross-frame analysis of attitude predicates.