Verbal semantic shifts under negation, intensionality, and imperfectivity

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The Russian Genitive of Negation construction involves alternations of genitive with nominative or accusative case under negation; typically a genitive NP is interpreted as “weaker” than a corresponding nominative or accusative, having narrow scope with respect to negation and as lacking any existence presupposition. A similar alternation is found with some intensional verbs, with genitive (sometimes) used for the “opaque” reading of the direct object. The similarity among these uses of genitive for ‘less referential’ objects was observed by Neidle (1982). One challenge for compositionality is the apparent nonuniformity of the semantics: the case alternations often have semantic correlates, but not always; when they do, the semantic correlates are not self-evidently the same in each case. We believe that a solution might be approached by combining the Russian “verb-centered” view of the phenomena with the western “compositionality-centered” view. As a prolegomenon to a fuller study of shifts in semantics and in fine-grained argument structure of verbs under negation and under the influence of intensionality, modality, and imperfective aspect, in this paper we examine the relationships between negation and intensionality and between partitivity and imperfectivity.


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