Verbs describing routines facilitate object omission in English

Lelia Glass


Which normally-transitive English verbs can omit their objects (I ate), and why? This paper explores three factors that have been suggested to facilitate object omission: (i) how strongly a verb selects its object (Resnik 1993); (ii) a verb's frequency (Goldberg 2005); (iii) the extent to which the verb is associated with a routine – a recognized, conventional series of actions within a community (Levin & Rapaport Hovav 2014; Martí­ 2015). To operationalize (iii), this paper leverages the assumption that a given verb may be more strongly associated with a routine in one community than another. Comparing writings across communities, this paper offers corpus and experimental evidence that verbs omit their objects more readily in the communities where they are more strongly associated with a routine. Object-omitting uses of verbs are analyzed, following other work, as intransitive aspectual activities describing an agent's routine actions; so the hearer's task is not to recover a missing object, but to recognize the routine described by the verb. More broadly, the paper explores how the meaning and syntactic potential of verbs are shaped by the practices of the people who use them.


lexical semantics; verbs; argument structure; computational/corpus linguistics; social media; language variation

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