Linguistics ETDs

Publication Date

Summer 8-22-2022


This dissertation provides a semantic analysis of verbs that describe social events, i.e., events in which participants interact with each other on a social level. The following broad semantic categories of verbs are discussed: verbs of communication (e.g., tell, say, advise), transfer of possession verbs (e.g., own, give, buy), social role verbs (e.g., work, hire, imprison), verbs of interpersonal interactions (e.g., fight, meet, bully), and verbs that denote conceptual relations between entities (e.g., differ, symbolize, indicate). Despite their prominent status in the lexicon and frequent use in everyday situations, linguistic accounts of social verbs are quite limited, and a comprehensive survey of social verbs within a unified theoretical framework has not been proposed.

The primary objectives of the semantic analysis are to identify event structures associated with different social verbs (or verb types) and to formalize a representation for verbal and constructional semantics in the social domain. The analysis is anchored in Talmy’s (1988) theory of “force-dynamics” and is guided by Croft’s (1991, 2012) application of this theory in his event structure representation. This study reveals that in many social events, entities are conceptualized as undergoing the same types of changes as entities in physical events. Metaphorical extensions of argument structure constructions used with physical verbs reveal that our conceptualization of social events is to a large extent motivated by our understanding of how events unfold in the physical world. Event structures associated with social verbs follow the same force-dynamic principles characteristic of physical events.




Semantics, Social verbs, Force-dynamics, Constructional semantics

Document Type


Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name

Department of Linguistics

First Committee Member (Chair)

Rosa Vallejos

Second Committee Member

William Croft

Third Committee Member

Christian Koops

Fourth Committee Member

Erin Wilkinson

Fifth Committee Member

Martha Palmer

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Linguistics Commons