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The issue of “separability” in Persian complex predicates: An experimental investigation


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The issue of “separability” in Persian complex predicates: An experimental investigation

Pegah Faghiri, Pollet Samvelian

To cite this version:


The (in)separability of CP components: An empirical question

The issue of “separability” in Persian complex predicates:

An experimental investigation

Pegah Faghiri



Pollet Samvelian


1 Universität zu Köln, 2 Université Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3, 3 Labex Empirical Foundations of Linguistics (EFL)

Contact : pegah.faghiri@uni-koeln.de

• Persian disposes of a limited number of simplex verbs (a total of <250). Verbal lexicon is mainly formed by syntactic combinations including a (simplex) verb and a non-verbal element, particularly, a noun: ex. dars xāndan ‘to study (Lit. lesson to-read)’, bāzi kardan ‘to play (Lit. play to-do)’

• Persian CPs have been a focus of interest since 1990s. Their formation (morphological/lexical vs. phrasal/syntactic) and their interpretation (compositional vs. idiomatic) have been thoroughly studied and various syntactic analyses are proposed to account for their properties.

• Most prevailing studies assume a clear-cut distinction between a noun-verb combination forming a CP and an ordinary complement-verb combination. Samvelian (2012) however argues that these studies explore a limited data and their generalizations do not always hold when a larger set of data is taken into account. She rejects any “special” syntactic analysis of verb combinations forming a CP and assumes that from a syntactic point of view noun-verb combination forming a CP do not differ from an ordinary combination of a noun-verb and its nominal argument.


Discussion and Conclusions

• Our results are in line with our previous studies on word order variations in Persian: For indefinite NPs, semantic relatedness favors the adjacent order while the NP shift is licensed on syntactic ground. For bare nouns, on the other hand, both factors favor adjacency. That shifted orders are not rated as unacceptable also follows from Faghiri et al. (2018) claim that the relative order between the NP and PP is a matter of soft constraints not syntactic rules. • Our findings credit Samvelian’s view and undermine most existing accounts, given that: in the case of bare nouns, they rule out shifted orders on syntactic

ground, and, in the case of indefinite NPs, they consider shifted orders to be non-canonical even when possible.

• In sum, our study challenges those accounts that depict Persian CPs only in terms of syntactic rules and credit those favoring soft functional constraints. Faghiri, P. (2016). La variation de l’ordre des constituants dans le domaine préverbal en persan : approche empirique. PhD thesis, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle - Paris 3.

Faghiri, P, Samvelian, P and Hemforth, B. (2018). Is there a canonical order in Persian ditransitive constructions? Corpus based and experimental studies, In A. Korn, C. Jahani & A. Malchukov (eds.) Ditransitive constructions in a cross-linguistic perspective, Reichert (In press). Goldberg, A. E., 1995. A Construction Grammar Approach to Argument Structure. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Karimi-Doostan, G. (1997). Light Verb Constructions in Persian. PhD thesis, University of Essex.

Samvelian, P. (2012). Grammaire des prédicats complexes : les constructions nom-verbe. Hermès Sciences–Lavoisier.

Samvelian Pollet & Faghiri Pegah. 2013. Introducing PersPred, a Syntactic and Semantic Database for Persian Complex Predicates, In Proceedings of the 9th Workshop on Multiword Expressions, 11–20, Association for Computational Linguistics. Samvelian Pollet & Pegah Faghiri. 2014. Persian Complex Predicates: How compositional are they ?, Semantics - Syntax Interface 1:43-75, University of Tehran.

Samvelian, P. and Faghiri, P. (2016). Re-thinking compositionality in Persian complex predicates. Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society 39 (BLS39), 39(1):212–226.

Persian Complex predicates (CPs)

➢ Most prevailing studies claim that syntactic (hard) constraints limit the possibility for truly syntactic constituents to separate CP components, e.g.:

Karimi-Doostan (1997 and sub.): Only predicative nouns display the possibility to be separated from the verb (if realized as a DP, i.e. carrying determination) • When the nominal element is realized as a bare noun (i.e no determination or quantification), it must always be adjacent to the verb.

• A predicative noun (as in ex. 1), when realized as a DP (e.g. carrying the indefinite marker), functions as the nominal argument of the verb, and can precede the PP argument. Non-predicative nouns (as in ex. 2) lack argument structure and cannot develop into DPs when part of a CP.

(1) a. tagarg be bāq=e man latme zad (2) a. Ali be rādyo guš dād

hail to garden=EZ me damage hit Ali to radio ear gave

`The hail damaged my garden’ ‘Ali listened to the radio’

b. tagarg latme=ye bad=i be bāq=e man zad b. *Ali guš-e xub=i be rādyo dād

hail damage=EZ bad=INDF to garden=EZ me hit Ali ear=EZ good=INDF to radio gave

`The hail damaged my garden badly’ Putative ‘Ali listened to the radio well’

➢ Samvelian (2012): The (in)separability of CP components is a matter of tendency (due to their semantic relatedness) rather than syntactic constraints. Our approach: The question of (in)separability of CP components should be framed in terms of word order preferences

We consider noun-verb combinations forming a (compositional) CP as an ordinary combination of a verb and its nominal complement, namely the DO.

Recent quantitative studies on word order variation in distransitive sentences have shown that bare DOs prefer to be adjacent to the verb, while indefinite DOs prefer to precede the PP argument (Faghiri, 2016). N.B.: Previous studies assumed the canonical position to be adjacent to the verb for both types.

Acceptability rating (7-scale) experiment, via a web-based questionnaire (Ibex Farm), filled out by 42 native speakers (5 excluded); 24 target items (+48 items). Design: 2x3 design, we manipulated order: adjacent (3) vs. shifted (4), and nominal element’s realization: bare (a) vs. indefinite (b) vs. modified indefinite (c).

We also controlled for animacy: the noun in the PP argument is animate in half of the stimuli (12 items) and inanimate in others. (3) a. Ali [be bačče-hā] qazā dād... (4) a. Ali qazā [be bačče-hā] dād…

Ali to child-PL food gave

b. Ali [be bačče-hā] qazā=i dād... b. Ali qazā=i [be bačče-hā] dād… Ali to child-PL food=INDF gave

c. Ali [be bačče-hā] qazā=ye sabok=i dād... c. Ali qazā=ye sabok=i [be bačče-hā] dād… Ali to child-PL food=EZ light=INDF gave


• Only for bare nouns we found a significant difference between adjacent (mean=6.32, SD=1.36) and shifted orders (mean=5.47, SD=1.71); t(36)=5.05.

• The effect size is however medium (Cohen's d=0.53 / Est. 0.86, SE=0.19, t=-4.57) and overall shifted orders are not rated as unacceptable (Q1:5, Q2:6, Q3:7). • We found a small but significant interaction between order and animacy (Est.=0.26, SE=0.07, t=3.44), showing that shifted orders are rated lower with

animate PPs, in other words, in line with the “animate-first” preference, animate intervening PPs disfavor the shift more than inanimate PPs do.

• In the case of indefinite (and modified indefinites), both orders are rated as highly acceptable: mean above 6 and Q1:6, Q2:7, Q3:7 in all conditions. • Concrete nouns of our sample display similar rating distributions.

Linguistic Evidence 2018, University of Tübingen, February 16–17, 2018

LE 2018



Feb. 16, 201


A Construction-based view of Persian CPs

Each CP is a Construction – a conventional association between a form and a meaning (e.g. Goldberg, 1995). CPs can be grouped in classes according to their semantic and syntactic properties. Each class can be represented by a Construction (where the verb is lexically specified) mapped to an abstract meaning:

Harming-zadan Construction Speading-zadan Construction

N0 (be) N1 N zadan N0 (be) N1 N zadan

Agent Patient Harm to hit Agent Destination (Ground) Theme (Figure) to hit

‘N0 harms N1’ ‘N0 applies N on N1’ / ‘N0 covers the surface of N1 with N’

ex. āsib zadan ‘to harm (harm hit)’ ex. vaks zadan ‘to polish (polish hit)’ (cf. Samvelian & Faghiri, 2013, 2014, 2016)

In 6 items the nominal element is a concrete noun. N.B.: Karimi-Doostan’s data is problematic:

(1) belongs to a productive Construction (namely Harming-zadan) while (2) is highly idiomatic.


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