Symmetric predicates and the semantics of reciprocal alternations

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Yoad Winter


Reciprocal alternations appear with binary predicates that also have a collective unary form. Many of these binary predicates are symmetric: if A dated B then B dated A. Most symmetric predicates in English show a simple kind of reciprocity: A and B dated means “A dated B”, or equivalently “B dated A”. Similar observations hold for nouns and adjectives like cousin and identical. Non-symmetric predicates like hug, fight and kiss also show reciprocity, but of a more complex kind. For instance, the meaning of A and B hugged differs substantially from “A hugged B and/or B hugged A”. Addressing a wide range of reciprocal predicates, we observe that “plain” reciprocity only appears with symmetric predicates, while other types of reciprocity only appear with non-symmetric predicates. This Reciprocity-Symmetry Generalization motivates a lexical operator that derives symmetric predicates from collective meanings. By contrast, reciprocity with non-symmetric predicates is analyzed using “soft” preferences of predicate concepts. Developing work by Dowty and Rappaport-Hovav & Levin, we introduce a formal semantic notion of protopredicates, which mediates between lexical meanings and concepts. This mechanism explains symmetry and reciprocity as two semantic aspects of one type system at the lexical-conceptual interface.


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