This paper introduces a systematic way of analyzing the semantics of causative linguistic expressions, and of how causal relations are expressed in natural languages. The starting point for this broad agenda is to provide an explanation for the asymmetrical inferential relationship between two causative constructions: change-of-state (CoS) verbs and the verb cause, commonly ascribed to the former having an additional prerequisite of direct causation. The direct causation hypothesis, however, is fraught with empirical and theoretical challenges. At the theoretical level, capturing the felicity conditions specific to CoS verbs and the notion of direct causation requires a means of modelling complex causal structures. This is on no account a trivial task, as it necessitates, inter alia, modelling causation in a way that is germane to the linguistic expressions designating such relations. Hence, the main objective of this paper is to develop a framework for modelling the semantics of causal statements. For this purpose, this paper makes use of the framework of Structural Equation Modelling (SEM), and it demonstrates how this approach provides tools for a rigorous model-theoretic treatment of the differential semantics of causal expressions. This paper introduces formal logical definitions of different types of conditions using SEM networks, and show how this proposal and the formal tools it employs allow us to make sense of the asymmetric entailment relationship between the two constructions. In our proposal, CoS verbs do not require contiguity between cause and effect at all, but instead they require that its subject is set by default to a participant in completion event, the event which “completes” a sufficient set of conditions, such that following this event (but not before) the values of the set of conditions in the sufficient set entail that the effect occurs. According to this, the intuition of direct causation arises (epiphenomenally) from contrasting CoS verbs with overt cause sentences: the stronger selection pattern of the former - which requires a completion event - may exclude more temporally distant conditions, while the latter admits any necessary condition.
The biblical corpus features a number of verses in which interrogative pronouns appear in non-interrogative contexts. The same phenomenon is observed in many other languages and gives rise to the question known in the linguistic literature as “the interrogative-indefinite puzzle,” namely, what is the natural connection between the interrogative and indefinite functions. This paper seeks to explore how this question should be examined in the context of the Biblical Hebrew data. It will be argued that a consideration of typological observations can yield important insights into this question. Subsequently, it proposes a formal semantic analysis of the indefinite pronouns in question and shows how the proposed approach can help explain their distribution.
Causative constructions come in lexical and periphrastic variants, exemplified in English by Sam killed Lee and Sam caused Lee to die. While use of the former, the lexical causative, entails the truth of the latter, an entailment in the other direction does not hold. The source of this asymmetry is commonly ascribed to the lexical causative having an additional prerequisite of “direct causation", such that the causative relation holds between a contiguous cause and effect (Fodor 1970, Katz 1970). However, this explanation encounters both empirical and theoretical problems (Nelleman & van der Koot 2012). To explain the source of the directness inferences (as well as other longstanding puzzles), we propose a formal analysis based on the framework of Structural Equation Models (SEMs) (Pearl 2000) which provides the necessary background for licensing causal inferences. Specifically, we provide a formalization of a 'sufficient set of conditions' within a model and demonstrate its role in the selectional parameters of causative descriptions. We argue that “causal sufficiency” is not a property of singular conditions, but rather sets of conditions, which are individually necessary but only sufficient when taken together (a view originally motivated in the philosophical literature by Mackie 1965). We further introduce the notion of a “completion event” of a sufficient set, which is critical to explain the particular inferential profile of lexical causatives.
Given that causative linguistic constructions are divisible into three parts: i) a cause (c); ii) an effect (e); and iii) the dependency (D) between (c) and (e), in studying the nature of (D), one should examine whether a one, all-encompassing, causative meaning component underlying the diverse linguistic phenomena is a justifiable position, or rather different ones should be distinguished for the various causative constructions. Only recently several philosophers argued in favor of theories of causal pluralism, allowing the co-existence of different notions of causation; some cognitive studies also indicate that people have a pluralistic conception of causation, similarly it has been proposed that the semantic content of (D) is different in various constructions, tracing whether the main verb encodes a necessary or a sufficient condition. This paper expands on this latter line of thought by focusing on the types of dependencies encoded within three verbal constructions in Hebrew, considering crucially whether these dependencies are asserted and/or presupposed. It argues, therefore, in favor of a non-unified semantic analysis for (D) denoted by the three verbal causative constructions to be passed under review here: overt causatives, verbs of change of state and caused activity verbs. According to the current proposal: Overt causatives assert necessary conditions; change of states causatives assert necessary conditions and presuppose potential sufficient conditions; and Caused activities only presuppose potential sufficient conditions.
This paper proposes a formal definition of reanalysis, while emphasizing the importance of the distinction between two different kinds of reanalysis: those in which the change is confined to the grammatical level, and those in which it is confined to the semantic level. After tracing the history of a negative counterfactual conditional marker in Hebrew and Aramaic which underwent both syntactic and semantic reanalyses, the paper assesses the concept of reanalysis with focus on the following questions: Is reanalysis a single, clearly-defined phenomenon, and if so, what is its nature? Is it merely a descriptive label for a certain observable state of affairs, or does it explain diachronic changes? Alternatively, perhaps it is a theoretical constraint, a theoretical requirement that linguistic change must be associated with specific environments where reanalysis can take place? A detailed analysis of the marker and its evolution yields the following broad hypothesis: Reanalysis of a linguistic form does not change the truth conditions of the proposition that contains it, regardless of whether the reanalysis is on the grammatical level or on the semantic level.
This book explores relationships and maps out intersections between discussions on causation in three scientific disciplines: linguistics, philosophy, and psychology. The book is organized in five thematic parts, investigating connections between philosophical and linguistic studies of causation; presenting novel methodologies for studying the representation of causation; tackling central issues in syntactic and semantic representation of causal relations; and introducing recent advances in philosophical thinking on causation.
Beyond its thematic organization, readers will find several recurring topics throughout this book, such as the attempt to reduce causality to other non-causal terms; causal pluralism vs. one all-encompassing account for causation; causal relations pertaining to the mental as opposed to the physical realm, and more.
This collection also lays the foundation for questioning whether it is possible to evaluate available philosophical approaches to causation against the variety of linguistic phenomena ranging across diverse lexical and grammatical items, such as bound morphemes, prepositions, connectives, and verbs. Above all, it lays the groundwork for considering whether the fruits of the psychological-cognitive study of the perception of causal relations may contribute to linguistic and philosophical studies, and whether insights from linguistics can benefit the other two disciplines.
This book provides a comprehensive treatment of the syntax and semantics of a single linguistic phenomenon – the NP-strategy for expressing reciprocity – in synchronic, diachronic, and typological perspectives. It challenges the assumption common in the typological, syntactic, and semantic literature, namely that so-called reciprocal constructions encode symmetric relations. Instead, they are analyzed as constructions encoding unspecified relations. In effect, it provides a new proposal for the truth-conditional semantics of these constructions. More broadly, this book introduces new ways of bringing together historical linguistics and formal semantics, demonstrating how, on the one hand, the inclusion of historical data concerning the sources of reciprocal constructions enriches their synchronic analysis; and how, on the other hand, an analysis of the syntax and the semantics of these constructions serves as a key for understanding their historical origins.