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Idioms and Support Verb Constructions in HPSG

Gregor Erbach; Brigitte Krenn
CLAUS-Report, Universität des Saarlandes, Vol. 28, 2/1993.


The paper presents a description and analysis of two kinds of collocational phenomena of German: idioms and support verb constructions (Funktionsverbgefüge). Collocational phenomena in general are characterized by restricted lexical selection of the collocation partners. First a characterization of idioms and support verb constructions is given, and idioms and support verb constructions are differentiated from "compositional collocations". "Compositional collocations" differ from idioms and support verb constructions as the meaning of a "compositional collocation" is derived by the usual compositional semantic functions from the meanings of its constituents, and their syntactic properties are similar to non collocational constructions. Further syntactic and semantic properties of idioms and support verb constructions are described. Unanalyzable and metaphorical idioms are distinguished. While unanalyzable idioms are diachronical often derived from metaphors, a metaphorical interpretation is no longer possible, and their meaning must be listed in the lexicon. In case of metaphorical idioms, where each part must be assigned a (metaphorical) meaning, the meaning of the parts either must be assigned in the lexicon or metaphorization rules must be stated in the grammar. Support verb constructions, which consist of a verb (the support verb) and a noun phrase including the nominal collocation partner (the predicative noun) of the verb, function as predicates and differ from idioms in the ability to express different phases of a process via Aktionsart, and the ability to express causative as well as non causative variation. Both idioms and support verb constructions allow for different degrees of syntactic variation and internal modification. There are some idioms and support verb constructions which are completely fixed. The majority, however, allows for considerably more flexibility such as passivisation, or flexibility in word order, heads and complements need not be adjacent. Due to this simmilarity, we have made an attempt to treat idioms and support verb constructions in a simmilar way. HPSG, as it stands, is not well equipped to handle lexical selection. We have argued that in case of totally fixed idioms a representation of multi-word lexemes with the specification of the PHON feature is appropriate. For idioms which consist of a head and a "frozen" complement and support verb constructions we proposed to handle the relationship between the head and the "frozen" complement or predicative noun, respectively, by subcategorization. Depending on how fixed the "frozen" complement or predicative noun is, either the PHON feature, the DAUGHTERS feature or the newly introduced INDEX feature LEXEME is specified. As a consequence, we subcategorize for feature structures of type SIGN instead of SYNSEM. We have specified the semantics of idioms in the syntactic head of the construction. The semantics of the "frozen" complement is ignored, and the Quantifier Inheritance Principle is modified so that quantification over the "frozen" complement is avoided. The semantic core of the support verb construction is inherited from the predicative noun; in general the support verb adds the Aktionsart and possibly information about the causative relation. The support verb fills one of its argument positions with the predicative noun, and its other argument positions with arguments of the predicative noun. Any remaining arguments of the predicative noun are appended to the SUBCAT list of the support verb. In case of causative support verb constructions, one argument position of the support verb is filled by the cause(r).

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