Force interaction in the expression of causation


  • Bridget Copley SFL (CNRS/Paris 8)
  • Phillip Wolff Emory University
  • Jason Shepard Emory University



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.