Telic senses of deadjectival verbs
In this paper I address two main issues in the semantics of deadjectival verbs. First, I review alternative accounts of the nature of the telos associated with a deadjectival verb on a telic interpretation. Traditional accounts gloss the telic sense of a deadjectival verb as ‘become A’: for example, the telic interpretation of The sky cleared is ‘The sky became clear’. On this account, the telos of the event denoted by telic clear is the onset of the state denoted by The sky is clear. An alternative account by Hay et al. (1999) is based on the property scale associated with an adjective and its derived verb. Property scales may be open, with no maximal degree of the property (i.e. no upper bound), or closed, in which case the property has a maximal possible degree beyond which no higher degrees of the property exist, and the maximal degree of the property constitutes the upper bound of the scale. Hay et al. argue that a telic interpretation arises where a deadjectival verb is interpreted with reference to a closed property scale. In the event denoted by a telic deadjectival verb, the theme of change traverses the property scale to the upper bound, the maximal possible degree of the property. For example, in The sky cleared on a telic interpretation, the sky is understood to traverse the scale of increasing degrees of clearness until the maximum possible degree of clearness is reached. On this account, the telos is the onset of the state in which the sky is maximally clear, such that it could not be clearer. I argue in favour of the traditional view that a telic deadjectival verb denotes ‘become A’, and against the alternative account that a telic deadjectival verb denotes ‘become maximally A’.
By way of clarification preparatory to the main discussion, I show that deadjectival verbs have two types of telic sense, an achievement sense and an accomplishment sense. The telic sense at issue in the traditional telic/atelic contrast is the accomplishment sense.
I also argue that the availability of telic and atelic senses of deadjectival verbs is generally predictable from characteristics of the state denoted by x is A. The telic (accomplishment) sense of a deadjectival verb is available only if the property region that counts as ‘A’ has a lower bound (i.e. the least degree that counts as ‘A’) which is accessible to modification. The telic (accomplishment) sense is the strong default reading where x is A entails that x bears the maximal possible degree of the relevant property.
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