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Tanja Samardzi´(Universit´e de Gen´eve)

Light verbs and the lexical category bias of their complements

Abstract

Light verb constructions are periphrastic paraphrases of verbs. For ex- ample, English expressions ’put the blame on somebody’, ’give someone a kick’, ’take a walk’ are instances of such paraphrases for the verbs ’blame’, ’kick’, and ’walk’. The verbs that head these phrases are called “light” verbs because they are considered as semantically empty or impoverished. Their complements are headed by deverbal nouns, which are considered as a mixed category, showing some nominal and some verbal properties. Light verb constructions present a problem for natural language process- ing because their meaning is considerably idiosyncratic and non-compositional and they cannot be analyzed or translated to other languages literally. On the other hand, these constructions include word combinations that are not conventionalized enough to be treated as idioms or collocations. They require a special approach, distinguishing them from regular verb phrases, but at the same time, taking into account their underlying regularities. The aim of this study is to quantify the lexical category bias of the nominal complements of light verbs and to determine in an experiment if the degree to which the nominal complement in a construction is biased towards verbal use is related to the degree to which the meaning of the light verb is impoverished. The lexical category bias of complements is assessed on the basis of corpus counts. The degree of semantic impoverishment of light verbs is assessed on the basis of human judgements collected through a question- naire. These two values are correlated for a sample of constructions. The results show a statistically significant correlation in the case where both the complement and the particular construction are not frequent, in- dicating that the lexical category bias of the nominal complements of light verbs could be used as a measure for identifying the least conventionalized light verb constructions.

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