Force interaction in the expression of causation

Bridget Copley, Phillip Wolff, Jason Shepard


Causal meanings in verbs such as cause, enable and prevent have been analyzed as having two components that correspond to two interacting forces or tendencies: one associated with the agent and one with the patient (Talmy 2000; Wolff 2007). In this research we extend a force-dynamic analysis to a wider range of causal and quasi-causal expressions such as lead to, because, and after. The “structural causal pluralism hypothesis" (Copley & Wolff 2014) is not supported; instead force dynamics is shown to be relevant to expressions throughout syntactic structure. We find that the applicability of the classical force-interaction analysis depends on (i) whether an Agent/Causer is represented in the syntax, and (ii) what kind of causing entity is conceptually represented: either one that generates its own force or one whose force emerges from an interaction with and a field in the sense of Copley & Harley (2015) (e.g., a gravitational field). The latter case, we propose, suggests a criterion for force individuation. This account allows us to identify several classes of causal expressions and to further map out the division of labor between the grammatical and conceptual levels.

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